SEARSPORT, Maine — What happens when two young, energetic people who are passionate about cooking and local foods buy a sandwich shop on busy Route 1 in downtown Searsport?
Delicious baked goods and lines out the door for weekend breakfasts — and that’s just the beginning, according to Celine and Patrick Kelley. They opened the Coastal Cafe & Bakery in May and are just starting to catch their breath after a whirlwind first summer in business.
“We’re here for the long haul,” Celine, 29, said this week. “We’re looking to put down roots.”
Patrick, 31, grew up in central Illinois and Celine in a small town near Seattle. They had been running a surf hostel in a town of 600 people on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and when they moved back to the United States, they went to Seattle.
“The culture shock was intense,” Celine said.
Then the young couple visited Patrick’s parents, who retired to Tenants Harbor, and decided the slower pace of life in Maine suited them. After scouring the area for a place to open a small-scale restaurant, they found downtown Searsport, where the Coastal Coffee House was for sale. With a walkable downtown and Route 1 traffic passing in front of their doors, they figured they’d lucked out.
“It’s such a great place and a great location,” Celine said.
“If you can make people stop,” Patrick added.
So far, they have. Patrick, the head baker and chef, has worked in the restaurant industry and food service his whole life. Every day the restaurant is open, they roll croissants by hand; bake crusty, flavorful baguettes; craft pies sweetened only with fresh fruit; bake tea bread-style muffins and more.
“My motto is, if our great-great grandparents wouldn’t recognize it, we don’t serve it,” Patrick said. “My baguette recipe is 150 years old.”
Alongside the commitment to traditional baking methods, the Kelleys bring a desire to be good neighbors, they said. This week, a blackboard on the wall listed several Maine farms and companies where they found produce and meats for their breakfast and lunch offerings, including Long Shadow Farm in Morrill and W.A. Bean and Sons in Bangor.
“We’re really big on local community,” Patrick said.
“I’ll buy conventional from Maine all day long before I do organic from California,” Celine chimed in.
The word has spread about the cafe, its baked goods and offerings that run the gamut from breakfast sandwiches to specials like beefsteak tomatoes stuffed with mako shark mixed with cream cheese and basil. Patrick Kelley said his little brother is working on a fishing boat in Maine, and he learned through his brother that mako shark is a bycatch that usually is just thrown overboard.
“Mako is delicious,” Celine said.
They decided to find a good use for the otherwise wasted fish. Mainers have been hesitant to try it, but the tourists are more willing, they said. Shark specials aside, the locals have embraced the eatery.
“It’s just a wonderful addition to Searsport,” Kathy Goldner, marketing director for the Penobscot Marine Museum, said. “It’s a lively and wonderful place, and the food is delicious.”
Whatever the secret, on a recent Saturday morning in August, the line for breakfast didn’t end for nearly three hours. On a busy weekend, they’ll get more than 200 customers. The success means they’ve already exceeded their five-year goal by the end of the first summer. Though they did not divulge specific sales figures, they said they go through about 300 pounds of flour and 60 dozen eggs in a week.
“We were planning on maybe breaking even the first summer,” Patrick said. “The first week, we made a profit.”
Though they didn’t plan on hiring staff for two years, they had one full-time worker and one part-time worker this summer and expect to have the same amount of help this winter.
“We could have easily taken on more, had we the time to train them,” Patrick said.
The bread is a draw, and so is the coffee, which a sign outside advertises as the “darkest unburnt cup” in Maine.
“They produce a very good cup of coffee,” Searsport police Chief Dick LaHaye said. “They’re very personable people. They seem excited about being in the community and part of the community. They seem to be pretty accommodating.”
The Kelleys will stay open for breakfast and lunch year-round and are searching for a piece of land around Searsport to build a production bakery over the winter, if they can find the funding to do so. They have maxed out the kitchen space at the cafe and need the room to bake more items for their cafe as well as for wholesale and retail distribution.
“There is a huge market for this out here,” Celine said, adding there are no local suppliers doing what they want to do. “Most restaurants in the area bring in [partially baked and frozen breads] from national distributors based in the south and midwest.”
Right now, the Kelleys are selling bread to the Marsh River Co-Op in Brooks, and they plan to expand their wholesale business over the winter. They also said they’re starting a community supported agriculture service for its bread next month. In that program, customers will pay in advance to receive bread periodically, and the Kelleys said they hope it will help them raise enough capital to get the off-site bakery up and running and ready for next summer.
“We’re excited,” Patrick said. “The local community has been really supportive of what we do.”
Coastal Cafe & Bakery is at 25 East Main St. in Searsport and is open Wednesday to Sunday from 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. For information, call 548-6243 or visit the website searsportcafe.com.