ThatMomentSACO — Ten minutes after the phone was turned on in the kitchen, the calls started coming in – a reservation for 12 for lunch, then 10 for dinner, then two for tomorrow night.

It was an hour before Huot’s Seafood Restaurant opened for the season. Owner Denise Huot Gelinas knew better than to switch the phone on earlier. No one would have gotten anything done.

As her workers scooped chopped clams from a plastic tub, rolled it in cracker meal and lined the cakes up on a tray, one of them would have to break away every few minutes to answer the phone and transfer it to the front.

Between setting tables and filling creamers, server Jessica Haskell took the calls by the hostess stand.

“I knew I would see you today,” she told a regular, who made a reservation for 6 p.m. and asked about Haskell’s son.

The woman said she and her husband woke up that morning and realized what day it was.

“Local holiday,” Haskell said after she got off the phone.

For most of the year, Camp Ellis, the quaint beach community between the Saco River and Saco Bay, is quiet except for the crashing of waves gradually creeping up the shore. Few of the cottages that fill with vacationers in the warmer months stay occupied in winter, when harsh weather could force residents to evacuate or watch as the ocean threatens to wash them away.

A shift in the currents, caused by a jetty built a century ago, has carried houses and whole streets into the ocean.

There’s a plan to build a spur off the jetty to slow the erosion, but no work has started yet. If nothing is done, in a few decades, Huot’s will be under water.

For that and other reasons, Gelinas can’t say how much longer the restaurant her grandparents opened 80 years ago will remain.

“We kind of take it year for year,” she said about her and her husband, who bought Huot’s from her father 16 years ago.

Their daughters, a high school senior heading to the University of New Hampshire in the fall and a college student studying to be a pharmacist, have other career plans. But, then again, so did Gelinas at their age.

“Never say never,” she said.

Denise and Gerry Gelinas have been working together at the restaurant since she hooked him up with a summer job when they started dating in high school, where he was the star quarterback of the state champion Biddeford Tigers and she was a cheerleader in the grade ahead.


Although Denise Gelinas went on to get certified as an elementary school teacher, both continued working at Huot’s every summer. When her parents were ready to retire, the opportunity to take over the family restaurant dovetailed with their plans to go into business together.

The couple, now in their 40s, didn’t hesitate to make their own mark on the place, busting out a wall to expand the take-out window and opening up the ceiling in the lounge into a second-floor apartment where her grandparents had lived in the summer.

But a lot has stayed the same. Although they painted over the neon green with a more subtle gray, they kept the original booths, as well as the lobster lamps that hang on the wall between them. They still use her grandmother’s recipe for clam cakes, onion rings and the batter that coats the seafood before it’s fried.

Making the batter is one of the tasks designated to Denise Gelinas, along with managing the computer system and manning the hostess stand when the restaurant is open. Her husband does most of the cooking, though every morning, before the rest of the staff comes in, they prep the onion rings together.

Running the seasonal restaurant has become routine.

“It’s the unexpected sometimes,” Denise Gelinas said of what they have to worry about.

On opening day, that was replacing a deep fryer that had worked the first time they tested it for the season, but caught fire when they tried to use it again the day before they opened.

The new equipment was being installed that Friday morning as the staff of mostly young women arrived for the first shift of the season.

Dressed in every color of the Huot’s T-shirts and hoodies they’d amassed over the years, they came in the through the side door by the take-out window and headed straight for a computer in the kitchen where they clocked in for the day, many of them amazed they remembered their employee code from when the restaurant closed in September.

Carissa Gelinas, the owners’ younger daughter, who gave up her last day of spring break to help open the restaurant, got another surprise.

“Wait, we have a problem here,” she said, giggling. “I was clocked in all winter.”

For most of them, it was as if they never left.

Stopping only to hug the co-workers they hadn’t seen, the staff went right to work battering scallops, cutting lemons and taking ketchup bottles out to the tables.

Denise Gelinas doesn’t remember the last time she had to put an ad in the paper for help. Every year, the same employees want to come back.

“We’re pretty much all like family because we’re with each other so much during the summer,” said Samantha Thompson, 29, who has worked at the restaurant since she was a teenager.

She made sure her wedding in Jamaica last month was before opening day, so her co-workers could be there. Another take-out window employee checked with the owners before setting the date for her wedding this fall, so it would be after the restaurant shut down.


For the first and last few weeks of the season, the restaurant is only open Friday through Sunday. It thrives as a tourist destination, drawing visitors from Old Orchard Beach willing to wait an hour or more for a Maine seafood dinner. But on Fridays, when salmon pie is on special, the restaurant gets taken over by locals, who seat themselves at their favorite tables.

That first Friday, they were there on cue.

Twenty minutes before the doors opened for lunch, cars started driving by slowly, as passengers tried to peer into the windows. Some parked, got out and yanked on the locked door before returning to their vehicles to wait. Gelinas said she’d let them in if she didn’t think they’d show up earlier the next time.

The parking lot in front of the restaurant quickly filled with cars and, soon after, a swarm of mostly gray-haired patrons converged on the door, where they lined up and waited.

Rick Talbot wasn’t the first to get there, but he finagled his way to the front. He had his reasons.

“I want my booth,” he said, his hand gripped on the door handle.

Talbot, 89, of Biddeford, didn’t know how long he’s showed up at Huot’s every Friday or sat at table 6, but he’s been eating there for a long time. “Since after the war,” he said.

Inside the restaurant, the energy had shifted from the kitchen to the hostess stand, where servers were huddled, tying aprons around their waists and looking over the new menus.

“All right, another year,” Gelinas said, as she turned the deadbolt.

Before she could open the door all the way, Talbot pushed past her toward his booth with the rest of the line following right behind.

“Welcome back, everybody,” she said.

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