BRUNSWICK, Maine — On the cusp of its 11th year in business, Frontier, the industrial chic restaurant, theater and gallery space on the Androscoggin River, pushes into a new frontier.
“It’s Frontier 3.0,” owner Michael Gilroy said, standing in the cultural hub the Yarmouth entrepreneur created in the Fort Andross Mill in the fall of 2006. Years later he added a full kitchen to move the concept beyond the cafe/arthouse vibe. Now comes a third wave: cafe and event space.
In a sign that the economy is back, Gilroy is pumping serious resources into the endeavor. He is in the process of transforming a raw, 5,000-square-foot space next door to expand his eclectic offerings. “It’s been sitting there since we moved in,” Gilroy said. “We’ve been eyeing it for 10 years.”
But the economy was in the doldrums for so long, and like many endeavors outside major cities “we were hanging on by our fingertips for a number of years,” Gilroy said.
Now he is doubling down.
One big change is a cafe open daily showcasing Speckled Ax coffee from Portland. Artisan roaster Matt Bolinder and staff are working with Frontier to extend the wood-roasted, single origin coffee customers have long savored at Speckled Ax on Congress Street in the Forest City to the banks of the Androscoggin.
Speckled Ax beans populate the shelves at Morning Glory Natural Foods nearby, but enjoying an expertly pulled espresso from a third-wave barista in these parts is new.
“I am not simply a provider of coffee but am helping him figure out how to execute drinks exactly the same way that we do,” said Bolinder, who suggested top-of-the-line espresso and grinding equipment to Gilroy. The Frontier owner, who has carried this coffee for years, went all in.
With a classic bar as an extension of the coffee bar, Frontier will be able to do what Speckled Ax can’t do: make coffee cocktails. “This will be beyond Irish coffee,” Bolinder said. Also, because Frontier is an educational art house built around storytelling this globally sourced coffee will play a new role as conversation starter.
“We want to create a connection between the program and the drink they are serving,” Bolinder said. Speckled Ax, roasted in South Portland, is creating similar business relationships with wholesale cafes all over. The Rugged Spruce in Saco, which opens June 24, as well as new cafes coming to Waterville, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and even New York City will get the same attention. But Frontier is taking deep cues from his Portland cafe Bolinder said.
“We are excited. He is going all in. He is buying everything we’re telling him to buy. All the equipment is top notch,” Bolinder said.
Other Frontier upgrades include a new event space for weddings, parties and food and wine festivals, new bathrooms, a dedicated box office and grab-and-go meals to sustain artists and workers in the mill as well as filmgoers. There is also a new entrance to the theater and lobby area so diners aren’t inundated with ticket-holders midmeal.
“It turned into a much bigger expansion then we anticipated,” Gilroy said. “Our staff has worked on this together for the last two years. The process has been vetted. We feel confident it’s what people are asking for.”
Construction ends in July and the goal is to have a soft opening in August.
“In many ways I feel that we are finally fulfilling the vision I anticipated but didn’t know how I would get there,” he said.