In less than a decade, Rosemont Market & Bakery has established a loyal following of customers who rave about its fresh meat, produce, cheese, wine and prepared meals. The managers’ 20-plus years of experience has steered the business through significant growth and helped it handle a recent voluntary beef recall with equanimity.

John Naylor and Scott Anderson opened the first location in early 2005 and there are now four markets – three in Portland and one in Yarmouth – with about 70 employees and roughly $7.5 million in annual revenues. Anderson runs the bakery and Naylor handles retail operations.

Naylor, interviewed here, managed a fish market in Connecticut and a restaurant for a time before moving to Maine in 1994, where he worked for and subsequently managed the Portland Greengrocer for a few years before opening Rosemont Market.

Q: How is Rosemont Market and Bakery different from small mom-and-pop stores and big supermarkets?

A: I went to France and experienced that European style of regional cooking and shopping that was so prevalent. Eating is guided by what people produced and grew and that really stuck with me. And Scott learned baking in France and that combination led to a European-style market. We took the idea of having good produce and good products and trying to regionalize it a little more.

Then there’s that farm connection. We’ve brought in produce from away, from the Chelsea market in Boston, but we’re trying to break the (consumers’) mentality that you can get everything you want, whenever you want. Seasonality has to be re-learned; we really pay attention to what’s in season. People will come into our store in May and ask, “Where are the apples?” Rarely will you find us bringing stuff in off-season from the other side of the world.

Folks wonder how we carry ourselves through the winter months – just think back to how things were before refrigeration. We’re coming into a season now of fall vegetables. People used to have root cellars and they canned and cured and pickled – that really extended the season. We want to delve into that stuff.

One of the more interesting conversations I’ve had with a farmer was talking about animals on the farm and how they would store meat for the family. We talked about how, with a large animal, like a beef cow, you wouldn’t kill it until the first frost because the first frost would kill all the flies. Then they could store the meat up in the hayloft because it would be cold enough and most of that animal would be fine through the winter.

Q: Why are you working at developing relationships with the farmers?

A: That’s really, really important to us. Building relationships with men and women who know what they’re doing. It’s part of our logo now: “Good food from people we know.” When we first started, we weren’t doing that much business with farms. But more and more farmers are willing to (work directly with retailers). I think we’re the only state that’s had growth in farms in the last five or 10 years.

Q: Why do you think farming is growing in Maine?

A: One of the major costs involved with food is transportation and to transport stuff across the country costs a lot of money, which has made local production relevant again. People are also thinking a lot about what they’re eating. People realize it’s important to eat well and they want to know where their food is coming from. I think Maine is a leader in the local food movement.

Q: You started at a time when supermarket chains were entrenched and new stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s just coming into the Portland market. How do you differentiate yourself from those larger competitors?

A: We try to create a situation where you can shop in less time and know that the quality of the ingredient is there, and you can talk to people about what’s fresh and good and what’s happening. Our stores are smaller and people have conversations. People have more fun. Supermarkets can be so daunting and it’s overwhelming that there’s so much stuff out there. We have everything they have, just not the hundred makers of it.

Q: You make a lot of baked goods and meals. How busy is your kitchen?

A: The bakery starts at 1 in the morning until 9 (a.m.) and at about 9, the savory people, as we call them, show up and make soups and sauces and salsa and lasagna. Then the “sweet people” (pie and cake bakers) show up in the afternoon and go to 10 at night.

Our cooking is based on (available local ingredients and) the time of year we’re in. The hardest part of the year is late April and early May because people realize the weather’s getting better and they ask, “Where’s all the stuff?” And we say, “In the ground.”

Q: You’ve gone from one store to four and a catering operation. What are the plans for growth?

A: If we’re going to expand, our kitchen needs to get bigger and our warehouse needs to get bigger, so were going to start looking for space. We’re at about 4,000 square feet at the warehouse and we’re looking to expand to 10,000 to 12,000 square feet. We’d like to be able to take big animals in bigger pieces (for the butcher shop) and to get into preservation with the produce and offer Maine products year-round. That’s our mission now, to find that space. If we could have a warehouse big enough to help farmers store their crop, it could open up business with institutions. For instance, I’m on a committee that’s looking at how we get more local food into Portland’s public schools.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced? The voluntary beef recall? (The Maine Department of Agriculture suggested a voluntary recall in late August after beef was sold to retailers that did not have the part of the cattle’s vertebral column removed, a step to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It was subsequently determined that the retailers, including Rosemont Markets & Bakery, removed the vertebral column before selling the meat to customers, who were not at risk.)

A: That was really an issue between the Department of Agriculture and Bubier (Meats, which slaughtered the cattle). Our beef was coming from Caldwell Family Farms and the Caldwells care a lot about their animals. I’ve been to their farm a couple of times and we know these guys and we know what kind of people they are. We know there’s no way there was any problem with their beef. That’s the kind of relationships we build. I can’t say enough about the Caldwells, and I would go to the mat for them. We felt because we knew the source and we have a butcher shop that knows what it’s doing, we weren’t worried at all.


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