TENANTS HARBOR, Maine — Where Route 131 takes a sharp left turn about 10 miles down the St. George peninsula sits a house that has had many lives over the past few years.
First, its was landscaping business, then an ice cream and lobster roll window, and most recently it was the home of a specialty bakery.
Now, Maine cook and food writer Malcolm Bedell has turned the quaint building into his newest endeavor, Ancho Honey, a take-out style restaurant he feels his hometown really needs.
“I felt like this area needed another option,” Bedell said. “I know that when 5 o’clock comes around, living down here, I just don’t want to go to Rockland for the fifth time that day. I don’t necessarily want to go out to eat, and certainly in the winter there aren’t even many options to do that here if I wanted to.”
Bedell is known locally in the midcoast food scene for his Kickstarter-funded food truck ’Wich, Please, which opened in 2015 dishing out sandwiches on the Rockland waterfront. Bedell then went on to run the kitchen at the now-closed Mussel Ridge Market in Spruce Head.
For the past year and a half, Bedell was out of the kitchen professionally, focusing instead on writing after moving back to his hometown of Tenants Harbor, a village on the St. George Peninsula.
All the while, his food truck was sitting in his driveway, taunting him.
“After a year and a half of working from home. I started really missing the food business,” Bedell said. “This business is really hard. The pay is garbage. The security is nonexistent. There are no benefits. There’s really a lot of downside. But I was thinking about it everyday and really missing it.”
Two doors down from his home, sat the empty building on the corner of Route 131 and Wallston Road. In early June, just as the summer tourism season was getting started, he called his childhood friend who is the caretaker for the building and asked if he could check it out.
It wasn’t what he expected his first brick and mortar location to look or feel like. It’s an older house that isn’t set up for “hardcore resturant work,” Bedell said. But it was an opportunity that came with low overhead and a lot of possibilities, so in mid-June, he signed a lease.
“Everyone has taken a swing at this location, and it hasn’t worked out,” Bedell said. “There seemed like there was so much potential here that I really wanted to find a way to make it work.”
After giving the place a fresh coat of paint, including a bright blue floor, and installing a small counter made from wooden pallets found at the dump, Bedell opened Ancho-Honey on July 26. While he got a late start on the summer, Bedell said the past month has outpaced his expectations.
“One of the things that has been reassuring is the transition of the people coming in, wide eyed, having no idea what this place is to them becoming regulars. And that feels pretty good,” he said.
The idea behind Ancho-Honey is half made-to-order grilled cheese sandwiches, reminiscent of the ’Wich, Please days, and half prepared meals that are sold to-go style from a brightly lit food case. The to-go case menu changes weekly, featuring meals such as guajillo chicken enchiladas one week and hoisin glazed mini meatloaf with mashed potatoes and carrots the next.
On Friday evenings from 4 to 7 p.m. customers can also get what Bedell calls a “quasi-live” service, in which he — and sometimes a guest chef — are cooking a special meal to order. Last week’s Friday night special was General Tso’s chicken and the previous Friday evening special featured a Lebanese-style chicken shish plate.
Bedell admits that he’s a cook that operates best when he gets to call the shots in the kitchen. With Ancho Honey, it appears he’s found the perfect opportunity to make that scenario possible.
“Whatever I feel like cooking that week, that’s what I’m going to make,” he said. “This is a really low-risk way for me to have fun in my own kitchen.”
While a number of customers have given Bedell the “wait until winter comes” warning, he knew what he was getting into by opening in a remote location that is heavily influenced by seasonal traffic.
But he’s willing to take the chance to see if it will work, and if tweaks need to be made, he feels the space can accommodate a different business model.
“If summer people want to come, that’s great. But I’m not building or catering my business to them. I’m doing this for the people who are here slogging it out month after month, because those are the people who will make your business survive,” Bedell said. “We all love the July and August spike, but that’s not going to pay my heating bills in February.”
As traffic begins to slow down, Bedell said he plans to expand the retail portion of Ancho-Honey which he intends to fill with hard to find food items. Ancho Honey is open Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.