SCARBOROUGH — A new restaurant has opened on Route 1 in Scarborough, and its co-owner, Alex Markakis, doesn’t want it to be just another company.
“Scarborough is a higher-end market. We want to welcome people to a community spot – like a noncorporate restaurant,” he said of the upcoming Cowbell location near the intersection of Gorham Road and Route 1.
It looked like Markakis knew what higher-end meant as he wore a navy suit and white shirt and sported a carefully crafted haircut and beard. The ‘we’ he had referred to was himself and the co-owner of the Cowbell locations, Jimmy the Greek.
Markakis started in insurance after college. He quickly found out that industry wasn’t for him and then ran into Jimmy “The Greek” Albert at the ball park in Old Orchard Beach. Albert holds the liquor license at the park and Markakis was working as a baseball scout.
“He’s Greek, I’m Greek, so we kind of just hit it off,” Markakis said of his chance meeting with his business partner.
Markakis sat at a wooden round table at the not-yet-opened Cowbell location in Scarborough, hands clasped as he discussed his entry into the restaurant business. Hammers and drills sounded off in the background as the finishing touches were being laid.
The young restaurateur thought that luck played a part in his getting into business.
“I’m a big believer in fate… You just roll with the punches and see what’s thrown at you,” he said of his journey through the different worlds of insurance, baseball and now food, drinks, and entertainment.
Even as a believer in fate, Markakis does not place blind trust in the people he works with and in the people who work for him.
“Jimmy and I put trust in each other – that’s the name of the game… I have to develop trust in other people in order for myself to expand. Having the right people is always tough, but your own success is reliant on a manager’s hands.”
Markakis could rest easy regarding the bar manager at the original Cowbell location in Biddeford. This was because Cyrena Thibodeau saw to its operation.
“I learned how to bartend at a dive bar,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, measurements were different there because they make the drinks a lot stronger.”
Thibodeau had her black hair in a pony tail, wore a black Cowbell hoodie, and flashed a white smile. She clearly enjoyed the casual atmosphere of Cowbell’s Biddeford location. In between pouring drinks, she described how managing the bar feels like a step up.
“This is a very different environment than the dive bar. It’s a family atmosphere. We like to say, ‘all hands in, all hands out,’ even if it’s not your table or your guest or your food to run.”
Markakis has found his own career growth in his burgeoning restaurant ventures.
“It was the people that said, ‘You’re not going to be able to do it,’ or, ‘how are you going to do this or that’ that motivated me at a younger age.” Markakis, who perhaps dreamt of the big leagues when he was younger, never made it there. But now he has come into himself in a way he wouldn’t have guessed. “Finding my own identity came with a little luck – meeting Jimmy and going from baseball to restaurants.”
Has he learned a lesson that he would pass on to others?
“Don’t be scared. Go out and take chances at a young age,” he said. Markakis is only twenty-seven.
Besides some luck and risk-taking that have contributed to his success, Markakis believes the state of Maine offered him unique advantages.
“I would never be able to do what I’m doing today in Boston,” he stated, noting that he is from the North Shore (which explained his accent). “The competition is very cutthroat down there. I believe there’s a lot more opportunity up here in Maine. In Boston, it’s much more of a rat race, even from the traffic to the people. The lifestyle is slower here, which I appreciate.”
Even in Maine’s more relaxed environment, there was still an ugly side to the restaurant business. Cyrena Thibodeau could testify to this back at the Cowbell in Biddeford.
“On Sunday, there was a gentleman who came in. He appeared a little intoxicated.” Thibodeau requested that he drink water, but the man refused, so she took back his beer and removed it from his tab.
“He started yelling at me, calling me names, and I said, ‘You know, I’m still a person, I have feelings.’”
Biddeford’s Cowbell had two exemplary customers that night at one of the high-top round tables – Lynn Lacourse and Gordon Greenlaw.
“This is the best place in Biddeford!” Lacourse enthusiastically endorsed Cowbell. “The food is good, I love the options because I’m pescatarian. I can eat salmon with any of the other combinations here. I’ve always liked the girls who work the tables.”
Greenlaw, her date that night, had the “Crazy Ex” burger. This was one of the restaurant’s specialties which included bacon, cherry peppers, smoked cheese and bacon aioli.
Even though she will remain in Biddeford, Thibodeau looked forward to having a new Cowbell location in Scarborough.
“I’m excited because I work at the original restaurant and I’ve watched it grow. We’re going all these great ways, and I’m really happy for my bosses and the company,” she said.
Markakis was enthusiastic to give Scarborough a new place for entertainment. He looked to baseball for inspiration in that task.
“Karaoke, trivia, things that are really involved with the people that come in – more than just eating and leaving. I use those intangibles from the baseball team – in between innings, kids would come running on the field.”
With a family feeling like that, perhaps Markakis will succeed in giving Scarborough a new, “noncorporate restaurant” – a community spot for a town he described as tight-knit.
Cowbell in Scarborough opened on Friday, March 6.