Ana Hito photographed outside Sonya, one of two restaurants she opened on Main Street on the island of Vinalhaven this summer. Photo by Isabel Butler, courtesy of Ana Hito

VINALHAVEN — The storefronts along Main Street had been vacant since before the pandemic, so residents of this rustic island off the Midcoast were encouraged when Ana Hito expressed interest in opening a pair of restaurants there this summer.

Hito, a 25-year-old social media influencer and former food editor at actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company, Goop, had big plans for the island that involved her pop-up field-to-table food series, It’s a Dinner.

“I was excited about having a place to go eat with my husband that wasn’t pizza. I think a lot of other people were, too,” said Kelly Oxton, who runs Fathom Seafood, a fish and meat market not far from where Hito set up shop. “And I would love to say they were lovely people trying to do something good, but it … turned into something completely different.”

Over the next couple of months, Hito and her crew commanded a presence on the island, with sidewalk sales, parties and photo shoots that created more of a stir than anything that came out of the restaurants, which people say were only open intermittently.

Ana Hito, a social media influencer and former food editor for Goop, was a presence this summer on Vinalhaven, where she leased two vacant storefronts to run restaurants. Photo courtesy White Barn Inn, Auberge Resorts Collection

Their approach to doing business drew the ire of many islanders who felt Hito flouted an unwritten rule that newcomers should attempt to fit into the community rather than stand out. Hito, however, sees it the other way – that the community she hoped would embrace what she brought to the island instead made her feel unwelcome and worse.

“I’ve never been so bullied, in person and online, but I chose not to fuel that fire or rest in that,” she said. “I chose to do what I wanted. I put a lot of money into the island, a lot of effort, and if that’s not what is chosen to be seen, that’s OK.”


Hito’s time on the island was short-lived but exposed a deep cultural rift – not unique to Vinalhaven – between a younger generation of social media-forward, image-conscious doers, represented by Hito, and Mainers unaccustomed to such an outward display of bravado.

Anger that lingered at the end of the summer has mostly given way to bemusement. Islanders have much bigger things to worry about – namely whether the lobster industry that supports so much of the local economy will survive. But Hito’s presence on Vinalhaven this summer remains a polarizing topic of conversation there.

“This island desperately needs a next generation of entrepreneurial people,” said Elaine Austin Crossman, who owns New Era Gallery, next to one of the restaurant spaces Hito leased. “I just don’t think that’s what they were about. I’m still puzzled about what they were about, honestly, although maybe that’s a phenomenon my generation doesn’t understand. I don’t know.

“It just didn’t seem like they brought anything good.”

Hito was supposed to return to Maine last week for an It’s A Dinner event at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, but it was canceled abruptly without explanation from the venue.



Hito divides her time between New York and Los Angeles but said she grew up largely on an island even more remote than Vinalhaven – Easter Island, located more than 2,000 miles from the coast of Chile in the South Pacific Ocean.

She said food has always been a passion of hers and, at a young age, she’s developed powerful connections and built a well-curated personal brand with a following that enables her to market products as a social media influencer.

Since leaving her job as food editor for Goop, Hito has leaned into that role – she’s a brand ambassador for J. Crew and Cole Haan – but she also launched It’s A Dinner at her family’s farm in Goshen, New York, as a way to parlay her love of food and communal eating into a business.

Vinalhaven, she said, was meant to be an extension of that.

Hito said she’s been coming to North Haven, Vinalhaven’s sister island, for a few years (she has a friend, Michael Bruno, founder of the online antique marketplace, who owns a home there).

Often, she would make the short boat ride to Vinalhaven, and on one of those trips, she met Sharon and Paul Mrozinski, who own an upscale antique shop called Marston House. They became friends.


Last spring, Hito saw the Mrozinskis in New York and had dinner.

“They were talking about how Main Street (on Vinalhaven) was really empty since COVID, and they were saying they wished they had a place in town where they could eat oysters,” Hito said. “So, I thought, ‘Maybe, I’ll just do that.’ It all happened fast.”

She started calling around to see about renting space and discovered two vacant storefronts – 30 Main St., which used to house the Nightingale restaurant, and 64 Main, formerly home to a popular restaurant called Salt.

Neither location was move-in ready, but Hito didn’t have the luxury of time.

Vinalhaven has a year-round population of 1,200, but that grows to more than 4,000 in the summer, not including many more day and overnight visitors. The window to run a successful restaurant there is small.

Hito signed short-term leases in June for a bakery and café called Bernice at 30 Main St. and a sit-down dinner spot called Sonya at 64 Main, but she didn’t get her state restaurant licenses until late July and early August, state officials confirmed. During the interim, though, she was frequently seen coming and going, and put ads in the free local newsletter teasing that they would open soon.


She also hosted pop-up food events and parties, often on the sidewalks in front of the buildings, which drew the attention of the town’s code enforcement officer, Faye Grant, whose visits to Hito sometimes turned into heated exchanges.

Grant, reached by phone, said she didn’t want to talk for this story but insisted she was just doing her job. Town Manager Marjorie Stratton said the only formal complaint she got was from someone who asked whether the parties Hito hosted on the street in front of the restaurant were legal. Stratton encouraged the resident to call the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement agency responsible for the island. But there is a decidedly live-and-let-live attitude on Vinalhaven and nothing came of it.

“Most of the complaints I got were from Ana,” Stratton said. “I think she felt like she was being harassed.”

Stratton found no evidence of harassment and acknowledged that Hito’s time on the island was “strange.”

Hito, however, said she felt like Grant was being “vindictive.”

“I don’t know why she was targeting me, except that I’m a young woman who came to a place who did things fast and that doesn’t happen in Maine,” she said.


Vinalhaven is plenty used to outsiders, so locals said they were more than willing to give Hito a chance.

“In my years open here, I have never seen one person or one group of people make everyone equally mad,” said Lindsay Davis, who owns The Sand Bar, a bar and restaurant across the street from one of the storefronts Hito rented. “It wasn’t just young or old people, natives or visitors. She single-handedly made every group of people angry at her.”

That’s not entirely true. There were some people willing to defend her, even if they were harder to find.

Sharon Mrozinski praised Hito’s ambition and dismissed the criticism as jealousy, perhaps rooted in sexism.

“People didn’t know how to deal with her,” she said. “She is a wild horse, and her spirit will not be broken.”



When the two restaurants did finally open, confusion about what was going inside remained.

Hito didn’t have a restaurant license for 30 Main St., so she had to get a catering license to serve food there, mostly baked goods made with natural sweeteners, and sandwiches.

Every day, she and her staff would move tables and chairs between the two restaurants. But there were many days when the two restaurants weren’t open at all, according to townspeople, or were being used for what seemed like private functions.


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A post shared by Sonya & Bernice (@sonya.and.bernice)

Crossman, the gallery owner, said she walked into Sonya one day to introduce herself and was offered a lukewarm cup of coffee.

“I had a thought that if they couldn’t even make hot coffee, that wasn’t a good sign,” she said. “They were really enthusiastic and saying all the right things. I had a thought that they were experienced in restaurants, but they didn’t really seem to know what they were doing.”

Mrozinski said she loved the atmosphere Hito created.


“We have never dined out so often, nor have we ever been more satisfied,” she said. “I applaud anyone at any age for putting themselves out there to try to please the public with the experience of eating food.”

Besides the food, people seemed to find fault in many things Hito did, from where she parked her Vespa scooter to how she conducted photo and video shoots for social media posts and brand campaigns that occasionally tied up traffic.

Hito said people just didn’t understand what she was doing.

“I do have a big presence. I’m grateful for it,” she said. “It’s brought me lots of places.”

Hito said that whether or not people supported what she was doing, she made a point of supporting local businesses. But even that was debatable.

Keith Snow, who lives on Green’s Island, which is part of Vinalhaven but separated from the main island, said he offered to make a sign, last minute, for one of Hito’s restaurants. She agreed to pay $400. He said she wrote the check on an inactive personal account. As of this month, he said he hadn’t been paid.


Snow said he didn’t get the sense that Hito was ever interested in running a profitable restaurant.

“It was more like live-action role playing,” he said.

Others had better experiences.

Jeanie Conway, who owns the Island’s Closet – a sort of catch-all store across the street from Sonya – said they did business with Hito and didn’t have any issues, though Conway said it did seem like she and her employees flouted conventions.

“They came over a lot,” she said. “I run a store that supplies a lot of things. I was even able to get disco balls overnight for one of their parties when Amazon couldn’t.”

Conway was invited to a party once and said she didn’t recognize any locals. As for the restaurant, she never ate there but agreed with others who said it often seemed like it wasn’t set up for customers.


That’s one of Hito’s sticking points: People criticized her without coming into her restaurants or getting to know her.

“There was a divide there, but it’s bigger than just the island,” she said. “It’s a cultural thing that’s come into play. If you’re not like me, you’re against me.

“I know I will be this force you may not like, but I’m not going to stop.”


Hito hired a handful of workers, all young women from off the island, to assist in running the two restaurants. One of them chronicled her time in a since-deleted blog titled “Ramblings from Maine” that included a crude post about a co-worker’s relationship with a local lobsterman.

Townspeople said that was a turning point for many who already felt like Hito had worn out her welcome.


Hito eventually cut ties with the employee and called the blog post “an unfortunate situation,” but said she had no interest in “tarring and feathering” the young woman.

“I believe in mistakes,” she said. “I think they are amazing for growth.”

Asked whether she felt like she made any mistakes, though, Hito did not answer the question directly. As for not following rules, Hito insisted she did.

Rob Miller, a summer resident of Vinalhaven who lives in Dallas the rest of the year, witnessed much of Hito’s time on the island and even had some interactions with her.

One night, during a particularly loud street party, he walked down and asked her if she might turn the music down. She said she would and invited Miller to join if he wanted. He declined.

The music stayed loud until Miller decided to take another approach. He went to his truck, which was parked on the street nearby and turned the engine on in an effort to drown out the party noise.


Toward the end of the summer, Miller posted on the town’s public Facebook group a lengthy screed about Hito and said she owes the town an apology. The many comments on Miller’s post were supportive of his sentiment, with only a few defending Hito.

“She was heartbroken and amazed that people said or wrote such horrible things,” Mrozinski said.

Others felt Miller’s criticisms were fair and accurate.

“If they really wanted to do the right thing, they could have gotten to know the community,” said Oxton, the fish and meat market owner. “They were rude. They did just whatever they wanted, and maybe they thought they could. This is a community where we take care of year-rounders and summer folks, too. We just ask for that respect back.

“We don’t need J. Crew photo shoots. We need people who can integrate themselves into the community, and they could have had the world if they wanted it.”

Hito has a different take. She said her pop-up restaurants were always meant to be temporary.


“Both of those spaces were empty for a long time,” she said. “There was a lot of opportunity for people to do something with them. I felt like there was some animosity because I decided to come in and do what I wanted, but I didn’t take them from anyone. The opportunity was there.”

Instead of having nothing there, Hito said, people were entertained.

“I put on a show every day. That’s what I do,” she said. “Even the people who didn’t like me were interested in what might happen next.”

When the restaurants closed in September, there was a lot of talk about whether Hito might come back next year. Some residents said they had heard she was, and there was a note written in chalk on one of the windows that read, “See you next year.” That has since been erased.

Hito said she hasn’t made up her mind.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said. “I like to let the wind blow me where I want to go … Maybe it’ll blow me back to Maine.”

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