If my mother was alive during the COVID-19 pandemic, she would have solved the problem in a nanosecond and knocked the Coronavirus into next Tuesday. The first thing she’d do is kick your butt if you didn’t wear a mask after the CDC said that it would be a major factor in quelling the spread. In our restaurant, the second you got up from your chair, she would have wiped it down before your shadow had left the seat and she would have wielded a 6-foot social distancing stick quicker than a nun with a ruler.

Four local chefs, Jonathan Cartwright, Rich Lemoine, Scott Lee and Jackson Yordon, gathered for a reenactment of the Beatles’ iconic Abbey Road album cover. Robert Akers courtesy photo

She would have loved these four chefs. Not just because they posed for a reenactment of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover (she loved the Beatles), but because they have their priorities in order – family first, and by family, I mean personal family and work family. Each one of these talented restaurant chef/owners faced the state’s newly-revised rules and restrictions with a positive attitude and executed them flawlessly in a time when most businesses were closed and trying hard not to be overwhelmed with doom and gloom.

The Kennebunks is a tourist paradise and the thought of giving up wasn’t in their vocabulary. Three of the chefs, Jonathan Cartwright of Musette, Scott Lee of Bandaloop and Rich Lemoine of Village Tavern invested in a forest of paper goods as their new “china” and preparation for the new world of take-out. Jackson Yordon, former owner of Salt and Honey, hunkered down into his catering company and prepared for a slew of off-premise catering rules.

Rules are daunting but in a serious contagious situation like the coronavirus, extra precautions are necessary. A good leader breeds a great team, and the chefs tightened their ranks and prepared for the unknown. Unforeseen glitches cost money with premature openings for inside dining cancellations from higher ups, but the restaurateurs persevered.

Fortunately, their senses of humor stayed intact. Scott Lee’s Bandaloop crew was finally feeling rhythm after a delayed opening in a new facility. Rising to the challenge of the coronavirus and adding new tents, tables and chairs wasn’t exactly in the plan or budget. But, tented it was, masterly poised to add to the takeout menu that had Bandaloop fans clamoring for more.

Lee has a great team to rely on and they rose to the task with their usual funny side up. If you ask who is the engine in a kitchen, any chef will answer with a resounding cheer – the dishwasher! A good savvy dishwasher is quick in the turnaround, has radar ears to hear the ‘we need..”, eagle eyed to observe what’s low and fast enough to be everywhere. My mother would love Bandaloop’s well-oiled machine in the time of COVID. They know what they have to do and they do it very well. She’d also appreciate the twinkle in Lee’s eye and his incredible dry wit. At the photo shoot, Lee joked that he had to pick up and deliver a new dishwasher due to transportation issues, but if that’s what it takes …

Robert Akers courtesy photo

Rich Lemoine’s Village Tavern runs like clockwork on a good day. On a COVID-19 day, it resembles a magnificent Swiss timepiece with a movement that’s seamless thanks to a support team unparalleled in their efforts over many years. Rich and I grew up in the same town, Peabody. It’s like a red badge of courage and the minute you meet Lemoine you know he’s always been a stand-up guy. Stand-up guys are few and far between. My mother would’ve given him three thumbs up.

He runs his restaurant like a captain of a ship who knows his crew is the best there is and nothing is going to muddy his waters or change his steady course. As busy as he is, he always makes the time to say hello to everyone who dines there. Putting the construction for porch seating into high gear has paid off handsomely, with consistence service and superb food. Like Bandaloop and Musette, it is immaculate, and there is a feeling of safety first. No one is going to get sick on their watch.

If you think Jackson Yordon, former owner of Kennebunkport’s Salt and Honey, has it easier than his fellow chefs, you’d be sadly mistaken. Jackson made a conscious choice to be home with his young children and not miss the early years, but he’s busier than he ever was. He adores his high-profile clientele but they require just as much positive energy and attention as his daughter and son do.

He may not be catering to large crowds but he’s doing more catering at home parties. Being a clean freak used to be a joke among staff members but it’s paying off now to have that kind of reputation. Yordon is an adventurous cook, having an experimental gourmet style that lands on the covers of the upscale foodie magazines. My mother would have found his likable sweet boyish style endearing and would have pitched in to help at a moment’s notice.

If she found Jackson’s boyish manner delightful, she would have been bowled over by the debonair charm of Musette’s Jonathan Cartwright. After being at the helm of The White Barn Inn for many years, Cartwright left the corporate world to enjoy watching his daughters grow up. Determined to carve out a simpler life in the quaint town of Cape Porpoise. A passionate cyclist, he founded Musette (which originally means a small snack to grab as you race your bike). He is thrilled with the team he formed for his breakfast, lunch and occasional dinner restaurant. They are playful and disciplined and it’s obvious he adores his work family as much as they do him. Unsurprisingly, both daughters have segued into the hospitality industry easily.

Eliminating breakfast was a risky choice, but it has developed into a good takeout business Musette might never have discovered. As a citizen of the world, this Englishman has had the opportunity to enjoy the best of every continent and introduce it to the Kennebunks.

His philosophy about the coronavirus is one of positiveness. Eventual plans got accelerated, outdoor dining that many restaurateurs thought were never to be, got green-lighted as new rules from the towns’ administration helped the establishments stay on their feet. Throughout the towns, neighboring businesses happily gave up some of their property so that the restaurants could have outdoor dining facilities. Generous gestures from hotels inviting fellow restaurants to expand onto their properties has made the difference of keeping the doors open and employing so many of the locals. People never forget the “givers“.

That is what has always been special about the Kennebunks. Given the opportunity to help when needed, their citizens are always the first to lend a hand. Although some people may not have been the “take-out type,” eventually everyone made an effort to order take out to help keep the restaurants alive.

The Chamber of Commerce sprang into action quickly, understanding that it needed to rev up and encourage people to buy gift certificates to help during lean times. Local newspapers went out of their way to post openings and hours. They did it because that was the medicine that the businesses needed desperately.

The reality is that the perils ahead are not over yet and we will never be returning to whatever normal was. Where we’ve been and where we are headed has created many good changes for the better. We need to continue to follow the mandates for quelling the virus by wearing masks – if not for yourself, for those around you.

I think about my tiny, frail, 9- year-old mother and what a different world it has become over the past six months. She would have been proud to see the sincere support from everyone to help others. Her motto was to always leave a place better than you found it. She was a marine during World War II – my sister and I seldom won an argument with her. She’d ask you what if you were deathly ill and had two nurses. One of them didn’t give you your medicine because you convinced her you didn’t like the taste and then you croaked (her words-not mine). The other nurse would say she was sorry but open your mouth and swallow and you lived. Which one would you choose?

Wearing the masks are kinda like that. Wear the mask. And like the song Ob la di, ob-la-da … life goes on.

Danie Connolly is an artist, photographer and Kennebunk resident.

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