A Microbrewery and a Frame Maker Are Waterville Innovators
Ramona du Houx
Small businesses in Maine that grow and survive economic fluctuations change with the times to accommodate what the market needs. They have to be flexible and listen to the community. Those who become foundations of their communities often volunteer their services and sometimes funds to the community.
In Waterville there are businesses that are progressing with the times, reinventing their establishments along the way to suit the ever-changing needs of the community. Located downtown in the basement of the old post office is a restaurant microbrewery that changed ownership four years ago. Since then, the historic building has been renovated according to state codes while keeping the charm of the original building. Outside you are greeted by a community garden entrance where you can simply sit and watch passers-by. Inside the restaurant, there is a friendly atmosphere as employees all greet you with welcoming smiles. Enticing smells waft from the kitchen while the chef prepares specials that accommodate diners’ personal tastes. Mainely Brews Restaurant and Brew House prides itself on providing good service and excellent food at reasonable prices. They are true to their words. Grilled tuna over a salad of fresh greens is delicious.
"Since my father took me to a microbrewery, I’ve always wanted to own one," said co-owner Luke Duplessis. "The business has changed significantly these last four years. We redid the entire kitchen area, expanded the bar, have performances nightly, work with the community when they have Maine Street events. Now we do have a regular clientele and hope more will come and see what’s new. We try to accommodate everyone’s needs."
If you are diabetic or a vegan, the chef will make you something special, and there is a vegetarian menu as well as a special children’s menu. The unique blend that Duplessis has achieved makes Mainely Brews Restaurant and Brew House a family restaurant as well as a place singles mingle to have a good time listening to music late into the night.
"We cater events and have the client come in and see the space in ‘the vault’ section of the restaurant, so there are no surprises. They also have an opportunity to taste the food we will be serving." The vault is a room to the side that can be opened up or closed off from the rest of the establishment. It actually has an historic bank vault door. Wooden tables within communicate an old-world atmosphere.
Duplessis goes out of his way to give patrons the best service possible, and it’s easy to see he loves what he’s doing. He’s a natural-born entertainer with a degree from the University of Maine. This Old Town native exemplifies the hospitality that people from around the world come to Maine to experience. Duplessis has traveled to most of the 50 states and Europe and never tires of meeting people. He simple has a zest for living and transmits that to everyone he serves. During open mic, he comes into his own as a performer who also encourages local talent. On trivia night, locals gather to see who knows what and most of all to enjoy a friendly night out on the town.
Since the pub changed ownership, getting the news out about the changes that have created a quality restaurant/microbrewery has taken some time, but now the news has spread, and it’s beginning to pay off. This fall Mainely Brews Restaurant and Brew House will be brewing their six different beers on a small commercial basis with a brewery in Orono. The names of the beers reflect the town of Waterville — the Two Cents Bridge Ale, for instance. Having a real brewery downtown, where visitors will be able to see the process of making ale, is a first for Waterville.
"I’m really excited about starting up the brewery side of the business," said Duplessis. "It is a long-time dream of mine."
Duplessis is involved with his community, helping out with Maine Street downtown projects, and is a member of the RealizeME branch, KV Connect in Waterville. KV Connect is a group of young entrepreneurs helping to revitalize their community with new programs while networking with other young professionals, ages 20 to 40. The Department of Economic and Community Development recently gave the group $10,000 to continue and expand their activities.
"Young entrepreneurs can bring new insights and energy into an area, and we want to make positive change working with the community," said Duplessis. "We’re doing more to get people engaged downtown. Waterville really is a special community."
From a pub to a restaurant with a brewery, Mainely Brews Restaurant and Brew House is continuing to evolve and serve the community in its special way.
At the other end of town there is a framing business that recently became Waterville’s Downtown Business of the Year for 2007.
Bill Taylor is not new to the framing business; in fact he’s been involved in it since 1971 when he began working at Berry’s Stationers. After 28 years — the last 15 years as general manager of the store — Taylor bought The Framemakers in 2003.
Over the years the business has evolved into a personalized framing shop and gallery. While other framers have closed their doors due to big box stores and chains, Taylor continues to be successful. Again, it’s largely due to the quality customer service. The extra care Taylor takes in framing mementos creates prized items for many people.
"It’s an art," said Matt Russ, an employee at Framemakers. "Matching up someone’s art with the right mat and handling the work takes a lot of patience, practice, and listening exactly to what the customer wants."
All the personnel at Framemakers go the extra mile to deliver quality customer service.
"We want to show that Maine is truly the way life should be. That’s what makes the difference," said Taylor. "People are bringing us a piece of their world to work with and make it safe to display. It’s important to me that I show them the same care I would if the piece was something of my own I needed to frame. Most of my customers live in the area; we are part of the same community."
Taylor has worked with the community for many years. He is secretary of the Waterville Main Street board of directors and is on the board of directors of the Waterville Historical Society, the Waterville Public Library Capital Campaign Awareness Committee, and the Waterville Arts Council.
"I’m a strong supporter of the arts downtown; I think what Eric Thomas [co-owner of Digital Images] and Shannon Haines [of Waterville Main Street] are doing to help promote the arts will help put Waterville on the map — and we will be known as the arts destination."
Every month Framemakers highlights and displays the artwork of a local artist, turning part of the store into a gallery. "I used to paint," admitted Taylor. "But I needed something three dimensional to satisfy my artistic cravings. Now I have my cosmic modulators to express myself."
Imagine a box crafted from pieces of frames and special cloths. It appears ordinary from the outside and looking into it from above, incredibly simple with a few items scattered here and there. But, once you nestle your eyes level to the top of the box and peer into it at this new angle, the world changes. Suddenly the simple objects you saw when looking down into the box have been transformed into rows upon rows, trailing off into the distance in a tunnel that seems never ending. And, as they say, the magic is all done with mirrors.
"Cosmic modulators are basically box kaleidoscopes to provide visual entertainment. I came up with the idea back in 1974 while picking up scraps of mirror," said Taylor. "I made the first one in 2003 and sold my first one in November of the same year."
Congratulations on the modulator invention have come from Congressman Michaud, Senator Snowe, and Governor Baldacci. "He liked peering into the lobster modulator," said Taylor. Mass marketing the modulator could very well mean big business success, but Taylor wants to keep it personalized, handmade, and within an affordable price range for Maine customers.
"I get people in here that tell me I could get a lot more for them, but that’s not why I create them," said Taylor who has copyrighted his creation.
Taylor is happy to be able to have a creative outlet that people appreciate. He customizes modulators, starting at $175, and really likes the challenge of these made-to-order projects.
"One person wanted a breaching whale; another had a daughter that was a star soccer player," said Taylor. "I try and work with the clients to design a modulator that suits their specific tastes. Anything someone can think of I’ll do."
Working with his customers is indeed the hallmark of his store, and that extra-special touch has brought him success and enabled him and his wife Cathy to purchase another store downtown.
Taylor was on the Waterville Intown Arts Fest committee for over ten years and was the recipient of the 2007 W. Cotter Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center Award for Community Service.
"There are so many creative people in Waterville. I think the time has come for more of them to be recognized," said Taylor. "All this hasn’t happened overnight. We are becoming the arts capital of Maine. Once the Hathaway Center gets underway, the possibilities are endless. I’m excited about the future of Waterville."