Brian and Shanna O’Hea are doing some renovations at the Kennebunk Inn – including the bar, and are inviting folks to purchase a wooden cobble for the bar top, which can be engraved with a name, family motto or business name. The promotion runs through July. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – Shanna O’Hea gazed at the carpet in the dining room of the Kennebunk Inn and wondered aloud what might be underneath.

She and her husband Brian had a look, and discovered birch hardwood floors.

So, what do those floors have to do with a new, custom bar top in the works that people can have a personal stake in?

It is all part of a larger renovation of the venerable inn, which the O’Heas bought in 2003.

The couple closed the inn on March 17, as did most businesses in the hospitality industry, as the coronavirus pandemic moved into the United States and Maine. Thye had hoped to reopen the 23-room inn, Academe restaurant and the tavern later in the spring, but that was not be. So, they decided it was time to give the main floors a new, fresh look.

As part of the renovation, the bar top, in the tavern that dates to 1930, is about to be redone, with 500 wooden “cobblestones” made from whiskey barrels and crafted by River Drive Cooperage & Millwork of Buxton.

The Tavern was the name of the Kennebunk Inn back in 1928, when it was established in the 1799 building on Main Street that had been a private home. This wooden “cobblestone” or one likek it can be inscribed with a family name or a friend’s name and be part of the new bartop being constructed by owners Brian and Shanna O’Hea. Tammy Wells Photo

That’s where the public comes in. People who love the inn, love meeting their friends there, love being part of the Kennebunks, visitors, companies, or those looking for a one-of-a-kind gift are invited to purchase a cobblestone and have their name, or the name of a friend or loved one engraved on it.

“We did a whiskey wall on our house and Brian told me he’d love to do a bar top,” said Shanna.

A friend suggested the public might like to be a part of it, and so the couple put it out there.

“(Customers) always say ‘we feel like this bar is ours,'” said Brian.

And now, a part of it can be.

The fee for two lines of engraving on a cobble is $50, or $40 for one line.

The couple intends to preserve the bar top under a high sheen glass-like epoxy surface, “ensuring that your contribution to the inn’s history will endure, beautifully, for years to come,” they wrote on the inn’s website.

The Kennebunk Inn, closed due  to the pandemic, is undergoing some renovations, including the installation of a new bar top that patrons and others can “buy into” by purchasing a personalized wooden cobble. Tammy Wells photo

People have responded with enthusiasm, the couple said.

With the inn closed, they hope the promotion will bring people closer together.

“We feel like we’re missing the personal connection in this pandemic, ” said Shanna.

“You miss the human interaction,” said Brian. He said when one woman heard about the promotion, she bought several, as Christmas presents. Someone else came in and purchased one with the family motto.

They’ll continue on with the promotion through the end of July.

Of course, there are other renovations. The original birch floors in the Academe dining room were carefully sanded and polished. The walls will see new paint in both the dining room and tavern. Back in the dining room, Brian and Shanna describe the fireplace they plan to install, that will be visible from the Waterhouse Center, next door.  During the winter months, diners will be able to catch a glimpse of the skaters taking a turn on the ice. And off the patio lies a courtyard – a perfect spot for warm-weather dining, they noted.

The Kennebunk Inn building was constructed as the private residence of Pineas Cole in 1799. According to the inn history, he later sold it to Benjamin Smith, whose family lived there until 1875, when Dr. Orrin Ross bought it and gave it to his son, Dr. Frank Ross, in 1880, as a wedding present. After Dr. Ross’ death in 1926, the property was sold to George Baitler, who converted it to a hotel known as The Tavern. Two years later, adding a 2 1/2- story wing. In the late-1930s, the name was changed to the Kennebunk Inn.

Shanna and Brian signed the papers that made the inn theirs at 10 a.m. Jan. 27, 2003, in a blizzard, they recalled during a recent interview, and opened for business that very night.

There have been changes along the way, as the couple, who met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, in the late 1990s, brought fame to the inn and the restaurant, through their appearances on the Food Network, and their recent inclusion on the network’s list of Best Food Hotels in the Country.

These days, with the inn temporarily closed – they plan to open at a time to be announced later this year – closed, kits for their famous lobster pot pie, lobster pizza and lobster lo mein. are available online, through goldbelly.com.

The pair are also guest chefs and one of the first celebrities they cooked for was Ian Ziering, known for his role as Steve Sanders in Beverly Hills 90210.

He called their food “slap in the face delicious,” the couple recalled.

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