Monday, December 9, 2013
A new 80-seat restaurant opening in Yarmouth in mid-September will cater to families who want to eat seasonal local foods at affordable prices.
Gather, in the old Masonic Hall on Main Street, will be a casual place where families can eat food that is raised by Maine farmers and prepared by a well-regarded chef without busting their bank accounts.
“I’ve been very focused on price points that are very agreeable for the everyday family going out on a Wednesday night or a Saturday night,” said the owner of Gather, Yarmouth resident Matt Chappell. “I don’t want to make this a special occasion, once a year kind of place. It’s an everyday, local hangout.”
Chappell has hired Chad Conley, the chef who managed the Freeport farm that serves the Miyake restaurants in Portland, to run the kitchen. In addition to his time with Miyake, Conley has worked at Hugo’s and Yosaku in Portland, at Jean Georges in New York, and at the Harborside farm of organic gardening expert Eliot Coleman.
Conley said that as a fine dining chef, he’s excited about the idea of trying to make local foods fit family budgets.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “I think it requires a lot of flexibility on the kitchen end of things to be able to work with a lot of small suppliers and respond rapidly to changes in the supply chain. One tough one I’m really committed to is meat. Having raised animals in the past, I really want to be able to have some meat products on the menu, and Maine doesn’t have this huge overabundance of meat raisers. But we’re working with Farmers Gate Market in Wales.”
Farmers Gate is a butcher shop that sells meat from a network of about 20 pasture-based Maine farms.
Gather will grind its own grass-fed ground beef for burgers and make its own sodas. The restaurant will have an open kitchen and a pizza oven turning out 12-inch, Neopolitan-style pizzas.
“The menu’s geared towards kind of a sharing experience,” Conley said. “There’s a good list of salads and starters, and one of the salads you can order a family-size portion. And there’s sandwiches. There’s a kids’ section on the menu.”
In the center of the dining room will be a 16-foot-long table where customers can sit for a communal dining experience. The long table, along with the other table tops and bar tops in the restaurant, is made from reclaimed maple that came from a dismantled bowling lane.
Chappell and Conley have been brainstorming ways the space could be used by the community when it’s not being used as a restaurant. The building has a long history of being a place where residents gather for town meetings, bean suppers and other community events, and Chappell wants that to continue in some way.
Gather will serve dinner only at first, then add a weekend brunch later. Entrees are expected to be in the $13 to $18 range, Chappell said, instead of the $18 to $25 charged at most fine dining restaurants.
Chappell’s background is in the natural products industry. He has worked for Tom’s of Maine, which was founded by his parents, and Mad Gabs, the natural beauty products company founded by his wife, Gabrielle Melchionda.
Chappell said he has not owned a restaurant before, but worked in them for 12 years in various positions, beginning as a dishwasher at the age of 14. Food, he says, is his real passion.
“It’s a dream that’s coming full circle, to open my own place,” he said.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod