BELFAST, Maine — Over the past six years, the historic Belfast National Bank building has been home to four high-profile — but often short-lived — restaurants.
Those include the first location of Erin French’s wildly popular The Lost Kitchen as well as The Gothic and Arata, both run by Matthew Kenney, a celebrity vegan chef from Searsport who left something of a spotted financial track record in his wake.
Sushi chef Robert Voudvihong and Lincolnville restaurateurs Jocelyn and Wind Tracy hope to break the curse with Satori, the new sushi bar they opened in September in the flatiron-style building at Main and Beaver streets that is often called the Gothic.
“I get that the community is invested in this building,” Jocelyn Tracy said. “And that we all feel a little tragedy around it because the previous iterations never seemed to stick.”
She knows that because of the calls they’ve gotten from people who don’t eat sushi but want to come anyway, simply because they want the restaurant to succeed. And because their new regulars have been letting them know when they’re leaving for vacation, so the three restaurant owners won’t worry if they don’t see them for a week or two. There are also the customers who grill them about whether they understand that business slows during the winter months. (They do understand.)
But Tracy, the general manager, also was clued in by something else.
“I get a lot of hugs,” she said. “It’s definitely a lot of strangers hugging me.”
This often-literal embrace they’ve had from the community tells the Tracys and Voudvihong that they made the right decision this past summer when they joined forces to open Satori.
“For all of us, it was a big leap of faith,” Voudvihong said.
Perhaps for him most of all. Maine wasn’t even on Voudvihong’s radar when Todd French, a Belfast boatbuilder who owns the building, met the chef at the marina in West Palm Beach, Florida, where Voudvihong had been working. French liked the sushi, and one day came to him with a proposition.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I have this great space in Maine,’” the chef recalled.
At first, he was hesitant. Maine seemed so far away. But he came for a visit, met a few locals and liked what he found.
“Everybody treated me really well, and I thought, ‘I want to try this,’” he said.
French also told him about the Tracys, who had come to him with an idea for the space. The future partners met in July, and found that their visions seemed to match.
“We meshed very well,” Voudvihong said.
“The three of us have been in the restaurant industry long enough that we knew right away,” Wind Tracy added.
The restaurant they’ve created is a warm, welcoming space with touches of urban coolness. The wide wooden bar in front of the big windows overlooking Main Street has been transformed into the heart of Satori: the sushi bar. It’s where Voudvihong and his nephew deftly turn rice, fish, vegetables and seaweed into delicacies.
Traditional offerings include California rolls, crunchy spicy tuna rolls, shrimp tempura rolls and crispy salmon skin rolls. Signature rolls include the Red Dragon, with spicy hamachi (yellowtail), avocado, cucumber and tuna on top, and the Satori roll, which features spicy tuna, avocado, asparagus and seared hamachi and tobiko (flying fish roe) on top.
The menu also includes keto rolls, which are wrapped in cucumber, not rice; poke bowls; miso soup; baked mussels; seaweed salad; and more.
In the adjoining room, Wind Tracy makes cocktails and mocktails with innovative ingredients such as charred rosemary, saffron syrup, seaweed smoke and sarsaparilla. For the bartender, it’s important to be just as creative with his nonalcoholic drinks.
“I think it’s important to provide the option for people who either don’t drink or aren’t drinking to have a unique and creative experience when it comes to beverages,” he said.
The restaurant is still evolving, the owners said. This week, they are adding ramen, a traditional Japanese hot noodle dish that has little in common with the instant variety that’s a favorite of teenagers everywhere. They’ve also been expanding dessert offerings and would like to open for lunch hours as soon as they can.
“We’re still finding where to put things, is the truth,” Jocelyn Tracy said. “We’re anxious to make sure we are a well-oiled machine by the time the tourists come back.”
In the meantime, they have been enjoying the challenge of owning a restaurant — a first for all of them. Their customers seem to be enjoying themselves, too.
“There’s a lot of burly boat builders, farmers, doctors, lawyers, actors, shopowners and painters” coming, Voudvihong said.
All of that bodes well, they hope, for Satori.
“We want to be successful,” Wind Tracy said. “We want to be here, and be sustainable for a long period of time.”
Satori, 108 Main St., Belfast, is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday. Happy hour, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, features $5 traditional rolls and drink specials.