EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two columns from chef Krista Kern Desjarlais, owner of Bresca and the Honey Bee in New Gloucester and the soon-to-open Purple House in North Yarmouth. Bread and Butter is an occasional chef-written series we publish in Food & Dining.

“You know what would be great in that spot!? A bakery … like a wood-fired bakery. With rustic pastries, nice coffee and bagels!!! I’ll just call the broker to schedule a look-see.”

That’s how it starts, innocently enough, with the glimpse of a “for sale” sign, a glimmer of an idea, a lot of enthusiasm, and a quick, impulsive phone call. Fast forward two years, and I’m on the brink of what will be my third restaurant opening in Maine, The Purple House in North Yarmouth (the others were Bresca in Portland and Bresca & the Honey Bee in New Gloucester), and the 13th of my career.

I’ve opened four restaurants on my own and nine as a chef or pastry chef with an opening team and owners to carry the financial burden. I say “burden” because of the massive cash drain it takes merely to open the doors. More about that in a minute.

Opening a restaurant or bakery or cafe is not for the faint of heart. Things go wrong, budgets go south, contractors go missing, openings get delayed. The first lesson I learned this time around was not to hire a carpenter off of a craigslist ad. Ever! He was a nice guy but in way over his head, and when he finally disappeared for good I was already two months behind.

Second lesson, things happen for a reason: If I had not hired this first carpenter, I would have never found my way to the professional carpenters who took over on the fly right before Christmas and completed the job expertly and quickly.


As for delays, well, it depends on your perspective. I made a deliberate decision to take my time, so it’s funny when I see the media describing The Purple House as “a long-delayed opening.” I gave myself time to rest after the summer, when I spend 12-hour days and seven-day weeks at Bresca & the Honey Bee. I’ve enough openings under my belt to know that the stress can literally kill you, so I structured this one so that I could still take care of my family and myself. I worked smarter, not harder.

The Purple House is at its heart a bakery, but I’m a cook as much as I am a baker and pastry chef, so I can’t help myself from intertwining the two. Whenever I design the interior of a space, I try to join the two worlds so I’ll be able to work with ease in my split existence. Part of my initial attraction to The Purple House, all 544 square feet of it, was that despite its small size I sensed it could accommodate all of me.

What I didn’t account for was that I would also have to serve as landscaper, gardener, general contractor and all-around fixer. I enjoy all these roles. Still, working by yourself pulling up weeds on the entire half-acre property for two weeks, as I did last fall, when you should be in the kitchen readying the place to open – sourcing flours, firing the oven, finalizing a million things – well, sometimes things just take time. That’s the reality of owning the property.

It’s a reality I embrace. For years when I would open a restaurant as an employee, I’d focus on the kitchen, the equipment and sometimes the placement of the equipment and the kitchen flow. But when I open a restaurant as an owner, I get to see my vision through from start to end. It’s daunting, sure, but it’s also exciting.

When I went on that “look-see” of this little cottage two years ago, I thought all the building needed was some aesthetic love and a few other upgrades, changes that seemed perfectly doable for my little budget. But after I bought the property and began to peel away the years (The Purple House has been a summer cottage, a year-round home, a hot dog stand and a beloved video store), it became clear I’d need to do a complete overhaul.

In the past year, I have had a roof installed, along with a new septic system, a leach field, a heating and cooling system, a front door and front steps, a parking lot surface and a patio. I’ve had the place painted inside and out, added electrical wiring, plumbing, flooring, interior walls, landscaping, and interior and exterior lighting. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, a wood-burning oven for cooking and baking everything I plan to sell, including Montreal bagels, rustic pastries and Roman pizza by the slice. I needed – I need – all new windows too, but that one will have to wait a year, or maybe five.

Taken together, the overhaul represented a serious cash drain but, truthfully, it’s par for the course for opening any new business. If you want to succeed, you learn to roll with it, to adjust the budget (like a hundred times), to make succinct decisions that keep things moving but at the same time aren’t imprudent, and to reassure yourself that things usually work out fine. Or if they don’t, you force them to work out fine with your iron will, smiling as you write the largest checks you’ve ever written outside of signing your mortgage documents.

As of this writing, I aim to open The Purple House the week before Christmas. I’m staring down this beast I worked so hard to create. Day One is always a day of hope. Deep down, I know that ultimately it will be great. But it’s also a day of reckoning that can be nerve-racking in the extreme. Day Two is usually when I emerge from that portal of dread and self-doubt otherwise known as a restaurant opening.

My anxiety doesn’t stem from a fear of the unknown. Rather, it comes from my desire to create something beautiful for you, the guest; something financially successful for me, the owner; and a space that’s efficient for me, the baker/cook, to work in every day. Until I open, I can’t know if I’ve succeeded on all three counts. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know after Day Two if I got it right.

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