Michael Gilroy and his daughter. He is the owner of the Frontier which is located in the Fort Andross Mill complex in Brunswick, just after you cross over the bridge. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Article by Ramona du Houx
The Frontier Café, Cinema & Gallery opened a little over a year ago on the banks of the Androscoggin in the Fort Andross Mill Complex in Brunswick. Visionary founder Michael Gilroy wanted to create a special meeting place where people could discuss issues, relax, and enjoy a delicious meal from around the world. By all accounts it is working; the art, movies, and food spark discussions — bridging frontiers. The Frontier Café has become a meeting place. “Our mission here is to connect people to their community and the world community through food, film, and art,” said Gilroy.
As you walk in, the high ceilings, wooden tables, hardwood floors, and expansive views of the river create an open space. The aromas of specialties being made are welcoming. All the personnel greet you with smiles and warmth. Most of them are aspiring, creative, young talents who have found a home working at The Frontier. And as for the food — the menu expands around the globe.
Frontier Café’s buffet-style fare consists of various specialty Marketplate boards, wraps, panini, salads, and soups. The turkey warp melts in your mouth with just a hint of herbs, and the Marketplate platters highlight the flavors and everyday fare from distant destinations. The menu changes as the seasons do and with different cultural themes that are going on in the movie theater and gallery. The variety of dishes literally can transport a patron, in their mind, to the meal’s country of origin, if they allow the relaxing atmosphere of the Café to take hold.
Gilroy had always found marketplaces to be some of the most exciting, fascinating centers of activity that connected peoples, from whatever country he was in, together. He wanted to convey that sense to patrons of the café.
“Street Markets are rich in tastes, aromas, textures, sounds, and images. Markets also serve as unique cultural intersections — or crossroads — where diverse stories, thoughts, and ideas are shared over a cup of coffee or a meal. Our café is inspired by the essence of these street markets,” said Gilroy.
Before coming to Maine, Gilroy worked with a San Francisco based company called Geographic Expeditions. He led groups throughout Russia, on the Trans-Siberian Railway and along the Silk Road trade routes from China through Central Asia and into the Middle East.
“Taking people into lesser-known regions of the world was very rewarding work. The expeditions gave me the chance to be a cultural ambassador at a time, in the ’90s, when the region was undergoing dramatic change,” said Gilroy. “The Soviet Union was falling. The Middle East was opening up. There was an air of change that kept people excited. People had great expectations for the future. It was safe then. The feeling of hope was everywhere.”
Gilroy’s treks across foreign countries introducing travelers to various regions, customs, and the people broke down barriers and preconceptions that some locals in the countries had and that some people on the expeditions had. “Some travelers told me that they went home and changed their jobs because of their experiences. It was great watching the trust build between the east and the west,” said Gilroy. During this time he wondered how he could replicate these kinds of experiences back in the states. “I had been doing photography, and writing but that lacked the interaction with people. That’s what really started the idea of Frontier.”
His last trip to Iran was canceled with Sept. 11, 2001. When the attack on the Trade Center in New York City happened, Gilroy had been picking up his best man in the city. After traveling across America for his wedding in California, and then dealing with news that his mother had cancer, he decided it was time for a change. “It was time to reflect,” he said. That’s when the full concept for Frontier came to life.
With plans for the business formulated, the search for a place in Maine began. Brunswick provided all the ingredients for a choice location. He saw the mill space while driving across the Frank J. Wood Bridge and knew it was perfect. Straddling the banks of the Androscoggin River, the former mill stands on the site of the pre-Revolutionary War Fort Andross.
“Brunswick has become a destination,” said Gilroy. “I’m excited that there is such a variety of cafés and restaurants. I think we complement each other.”
At the gateway to Brunswick from Topsham, Gilroy’s establishment embodies the community spirit of the town in his world café.
“I wanted to create a place where people could connect with cultures around the world, informally. So it’s not an intimidating experience, like going to a museum or gallery can be. The markets in countries that I visited always provided us with the best meals and cultural experiences. We would often take the food and have a picnic in a remote area where we discussed issues and told stories,” said Gilroy. “Frontier brings all that together. The 75-seat cinema provides a dynamic space for films, hosting lectures, workshops, meetings, and community events and festivals. The gallery exhibits contemporary visual stories produced collaboratively with storytellers from Maine and around the world. By using fresh local organic produce, world flavors and culinary traditions, we’re bringing that world marketplace to the Brunswick’s community.”
During the year Gilroy puts on cultural theme weeks. In 2008 Frontier will go around the world to China and Latin America with its programming. “Its great for me because I get to travel and at the end of the day go home to my family,” said Gilroy.
Another way Frontier is helping local communities is with a new program to get school children involved in world affairs. Gilroy holds school visits to the café, where high school students view a movie, experience the gallery’s art and taste traditional food from the region they are studying. He wants to establish a “passport program” that would engage children under the age of ten with play passports that would be stamped at the café. The children could experience storytelling, song, and earth-friendly movies and, of course, world foods.
“The kids could go in the theater and the parents could relax with a coffee,” said Gilroy. “Expanding horizons at any age is a great thing to help along the way. I went to Germany in high school, and that started me on the road to explore other cultures. In the future I’d like to help facilitate a program for high school students to study abroad.”
At Frontier people can take a cultural experience away with them, if they wish. They can discover more about issues that are in the films or adorning the gallery. Frontier is the first gallery, cinema & café in Maine. The unique thing about Frontier is that the establishment opens the door to the world in a comfortable, enjoyable way through delicious food, mind-opening films, and inspiring art.
Look for upcoming cultural events at Frontier at: http://www.explorefrontier.com.