PORT CLYDE, Maine — Linda Bean, 76, granddaughter of retail giant founder L.L. Bean and a major player in the Maine lobster industry, does not plan to sell her businesses in the wake of her retirement.
Bean began stepping back last year from managing her myriad businesses and properties that spread across the state.
“The problem is I’m no longer young. I keep looking up the road to when I am no longer here.”
“I have businesses and properties in several Maine counties, and it is not my intention to sell any,” she wrote in an email this week.
A wealthy businesswoman, philanthropist and political activist, Bean’s success in the lobstering and tourism industry came late in life — only in the last 10 years. But her commercial Maine brand has not always meshed with locals, despite her trying to promote the Maine way of doing things.
Bean has elbowed her way to not only becoming a key contributor to the state’s lobster wholesale and processing industry, but she touts a number of tourist-centric hospitality accommodations, including her restaurants in Freeport and Port Clyde, and a number of vacation rentals up and down the coast — all under her Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine brand.
Bean’s employees already have begun managing the day-to-day operations, and Veronika Carlson, Bean’s executive assistant, is leading the new management team. Bean also confirmed that she has put “her properties in trust to enable what I have done to be ongoing into the future.”
About half of her businesses — the wholesaling of lobsters — “have been converted to an Employee (Stock) Ownership Plan,” said Bean. She did not agree to meet for an interview but responded to some questions via email this week and was not specific about her role going forward.
Bean made the decision to retire from managing the Port Clyde general store and the Dip Net restaurant behind it last year, Carlson said.
As part of her retirement plan, Bean has leased the Dip Net restaurant in Port Clyde to a St. George native and former employee whom she said is “well prepared.”
Lexi Rackliff-Zable, 26, who finalized her lease with Bean in February, will manage the restaurant — a small clapboard shack tucked behind the Port Clyde General Store — as her own for the next three years.
‘Small-town feel and local flavor’
Linda Lorraine Bean, granddaughter of Leon Leonwood Bean, is a part owner of L.L. Bean, who grew up in the Freeport and Yarmouth area, and serves on the board of the iconic retail firm.
But it was about a decade ago — after she had raised three sons, following the death of her first husband and her divorce from her second husband — that she first invested in and made her mark on the lobster industry.
Bean, who was 66 at the time, accepted the offer from a local lobster dealer to go into the lobster wholesale business in Port Clyde. She bought the Bay Lobster buying station, located on a wharf off Cold Storage Road, for $1.6 million in February 2007 and the following year, purchased 400,000 pounds of lobster from local harvesters. Nearly 6 years later, Bean, who had purchased four more buying stations in the midcoast area, bought about 7 million pounds of lobster — single-handedly accounting for about 5.5 percent of the entire state’s local lobster haul.
The purchase of her first lobster buying station — and shortly after, the acquisition of the neighboring Port Clyde General Store and the Dip Net restaurant for $1.1 million — marked the beginning of what would become a 10-year career in the lobster wholesale and Maine tourism and hospitality industry under her Perfect Maine brand. This new career put Bean’s business acumen on full display, but it also helped make her one of the more controversial figures in the state.
Bean clashed with the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals in 2013 after a hidden-camera video footage inside her Rockland lobster processing plant showed the mutilation of live lobsters.
A PETA research associate called the tearing apart of live lobsters an “illegal lobster killing method.”
In July of 2014, Bean defended the killing methods, saying they were commonplace at other processing facilities and in compliance with local statutes. She called PETA a “truly radicalized organization,” that many in the state see as waging “a full-scale attack on the lobster industry.”
Then Bean, a conservative Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the late 1980s and early 1990s, again became a public spectacle earlier this year, in the wake of the presidential election of Republican Donald Trump.
Bean exceeded the donation limits to the Make America Great Again LLC Super PAC with her $30,000 donation in support of Trump. The large donation drew attention from the Federal Election Commission, which limits personal donations to traditional PACS to $5,000.
Her donation also turned heads when Grab Your Wallet, an anti-Trump group that advocates for boycotting of businesses that sell Trump products, called for the boycott of L.L.Bean unless Linda Bean was removed from its board of directors.
Bean quickly responded on Fox News that the boycott was an effort to vilify and bully her for her political views, and she refused to step down from the board.
After weathering the storm, she appears ready to start stepping back, at least from her business ventures.
“Most people retire in their mid-60s, but I have continued that extra 10 years in St. George because I care about my community and want to help maintain lobstering, art and visitor hospitality that give this peninsula its particular vitality,” Bean said.
Efforts to determine her net worth have been unsuccessful since both L.L. Bean and Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine are privately held and thus aren’t required to report earnings.
But, in the last decade, Bean has purchased a host of properties and businesses in St. George and throughout the midcoast area, including Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and Topside Tavern and a lobster shack kiosk in Freeport, as well as Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen cafe in the Portland International Jetport.
In addition to the Dip Net and the general store in Port Clyde, Bean owns the Port Kitchen restaurant inside the general store, a Wyeth gallery on the second floor, the Corner Store and general store in Tenants Harbor, and the nearby Barn Cafe and Seaside Inn.
Arguably her biggest aesthetic imprint, for better or worse, has been on the villages of Tenants Harbor and Port Clyde, where she has lived now for 25 years.
“I have cared deeply to preserve their look and their historical legacy as authentic fishing villages,” she said.
But locals are ambivalent about her strong presence in the community, and her decisions have not always earned her favor among them. In February, Bean proposed the construction of a 1,500 square-foot Wyeth museum, to be located off Horse Point Road, which intersects with Port Clyde Road and is about a five-minute walk to the general store. Residents of the exclusively residential dead-end road were angered, and dozens attended a planning board meeting in late March to voice their concerns. Residents complained that there simply isn’t enough room for the museum, which would be surrounded closely on all four sides by homes, and that traffic on the already narrow road would be too much for the tight area.
Bean’s team is still in the process of adjusting the site plan and the proposal likely will be vetted for a second time by the St. George Planning Board this summer.
Horse Point Road resident Chris Chadwick, who has known Bean for a few years and whose wife used to work for the Perfect Maine brand, said Bean is “just like the little kid that plays with a toy, and now that toy is Port Clyde.”
But Bean insists her intentions are for the good of the community and her passion is historic preservation.
In retirement, Bean, who has a notable collection of Wyeth paintings, will serve as a board member on the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art — where the Wyeth family lived in Pennsylvania — and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Delaware.
Bean’s businesses, in the meantime, will plug on without her.
New Dip Net proprietor Rackliff-Zable, who worked under Bean at the Dip Net for almost a decade as a teenager, met her husband, a local lobsterman and scalloper, while employed by Bean. They now have two children and live in Spruce Head.
Rackliff-Zable plans to open the Dip Net over Memorial Day weekend. She said she’s very thankful to Bean for the opportunity to operate such an iconic restaurant, hopes the rebranded Dip Net will “bring back its good reputation among the locals,” she said, as well as continue to attract tourists, while lessening what some perceive as a corporately branded Maine experience.
“We just want to bring back that small-town feel and local flavor,” Rackliff-Zable said.
Under Rackliff-Zable’s ownership, the Dip Net will have no affiliation with Bean’s Perfect Maine brand, other than a lobster roll on the menu dedicated to Bean, called Linda’s Way — a lobster roll tossed lightly with mayonnaise and topped with Bean’s signature lobster roll spices. Rackliff-Zable has full autonomy with the menu and marketing.
In many ways, reviving working-class industries for locals to not only patronize, but to make a living off of, is the cornerstone of Bean’s philosophy.
“Living in this beautiful place, I came to recognize certain seasonal challenges and needs I could help with,” Bean said.
As for the many buildings she has preserved, like the Port Clyde general store and Dip Net, they exist for the most part in their original structures.
“I suppose the buildings could have been torn down and something new put in, but I have a heart for historic preservation,” Bean said. “Over a decade I have replaced a lot of failing timbers, roofs and windows. But it’s still the familiar old place.”
Preserving the image, industry and nostalgic memory of historic coastal Maine is what Bean has fiercely sought — her business tagline is, after all, “It doesn’t get more Maine than this.”