ALAN BENNETT/Journal TribuneThe interior of Rabelais Fine Books on Food and Drink, located in the North Dam Mill in Biddeford, is pictured Sunday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

ALAN BENNETT/Journal TribuneThe interior of Rabelais Fine Books on Food and Drink, located in the North Dam Mill in Biddeford, is pictured Sunday. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Thirty thousand. 

That’s the number of cookbooks, menus, cards and other food- and drink-related items Don Lindegren has for sale in his shop, Rabelais Fine Books on Food and Drink in downtown Biddeford. 

Walking into the shop, located in the North Dam Mill of the Pepperell Mill Campus, is like taking a trip into Alice’s Wonderland — at least for me, who is obsessed with all things food and all things writing. The sheer enormity of Lindegren’s collection, he says, makes his store the largest of its kind in the world. 

ALAN BENNETT/Journal TribuneAmong Rabelais' shelves sit more than 30,000 books on cooking, dining and the history of it all.

ALAN BENNETT/Journal TribuneAmong Rabelais’ shelves sit more than 30,000 books on cooking, dining and the history of it all.

Lindegren got his start in the book business in 1979, when he was in high school, at the Barnes & Noble store in New York. It was a modest beginning, he said, working at the store that later grew into a large, national chain. In 1989 in college, he began working for Powell’s Books in Chicago, a dealer of rare books. 

“It was the only kind of thing I knew how to do,” he said, and he stayed there for eight years through college and part of graduate school. 

In the 1990s, Lindegren began working for a rare book dealer based in Boston. There, he spent his days researching and cataloging books and traveling the world attending book fairs. Sometimes to his benefit and sometimes not, he also worked as an independent rare book dealer. 

When he moved to Maine with his wife, still working as an independent rare book dealer, he decided it was time to make a change. He opened Rabelais in Portland in 2006, with a focus on books related to cooking, food and drink, a store he said was uniquely Maine. 

“We were both inspired by Maine’s food community and the history of Maine’s food community, and what was going on now — and this was 10 years ago — in Portland and beyond,” he said. 

For years the shop was a stop for local chefs and restaurateurs, and played a different part in Portland’s food scene. But soon, stock outgrew the space. 

“We had a different role to play, and that was kind of nice. We were kind of like neutral Switzerland for all the chefs to hang out. But we really needed the space for the rare book business to grow,” Lindegren said. 

Lindegren moved to Biddeford five years ago, finding necessary space in the retrofitted mill district. 

Rabelais serves a unique purpose in the Biddeford community. While cookbooks aren’t a necessity, they are a reminder of place and a look into the past. And visitors to the store can look into the distant past — the oldest book in the store was printed in 1535, but written in the 7th century A.D. 

The most fascinating part of his line of work, Lindegren said, is the way one can tell recipes have transcended geographical barriers through time — evident from the thousands of books that line his store’s shelves. 

“Throughout history people were frequently defined by their place, their location, their geography,” he said. “If you lived in a certain part of the city, or the country or the world, your food was constrained by where you were. Your identity as a person and strong feelings about food were tied up in that location. 

“Now, we’re no longer constrained in that way,” Lindegren continued. “Food is global everywhere … the location no longer dictates it.” 

Lindegren said he’s excited to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of his shop in Biddeford, a place that, like recipes, continues to change over time. He said the mills have provided an excellent home and creative community, and he’s happy to serve a community in progress. 

“Our shop was always a reaction to the fact that Maine has this great food scene. We wouldn’t have started this shop if it had not been a reaction to Maine and its farmers and fishermen and chefs and brewers,” he said. “As far as Biddeford goes, we love being in a place that’s a place in process … There are just a lot of creative, interesting people here and we like being a part of that.” 

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected] 

 


Comments are not available on this story.