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When two men in their early 20s conceived the idea of opening a new restaurant and retail seafood market business in Northeast Harbor, they didn’t know they’d be opening in the midst of a pandemic.
But Ronald Musetti and Adam Fraley adapted accordingly to open their Nor'Easter Pound & Market.
They’re holding a soft opening today for takeout and delivery through the weekend. In keeping with Gov. Janet Mills’ rural reopening plan, announced May 8, the partners plan to welcome diners May 18 with social distancing and other health and safety guidelines.
The Mills plan allows retail stores and restaurants to open to in-store and some dine-in service with enhanced safety precautions in counties where community transmission is not present. Those counties are Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Hancock, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc.
“We’re sticking with our same opening day,” said Fraley. “We’ll push the online ordering and curbside takeout as much as possible and we have a wide-open deck. We’ll keep our tables more than six feet apart.”
Fraley, 24, and Musetti, 23, grew up on Mount Desert Island and went to nursery school together.
Fraley graduated from the University of Maine/Orono with a mechanical engineering degree, then worked in Washington, D.C., as a naval architect consulting for the U.S. Navy.
Musetti has been a lobsterman since he was 12. Today he owns a 40-foot lobsterboat, the Royal Fortune, that he operates out of Northeast Harbor.
The two realized they work well together when Musetti hired Fraley as his sternman for several summers.
“We developed an intuitive flow between each other,” said Fraley.
They began thinking about starting a business together a couple of years ago.
“We’ve been floating ideas for a couple of years but we’ve been pretty picky about what we want to invest in,” said Musetti.
A restaurant and retail seafood market brought together several ideas. Musetti would supply lobster and other seasonal seafood direct from his boat. The business would support other local purveyors of seafood, meats, eggs and produce and they already had longtime connections with many. The business would add to a growing movement in Northeast Harbor to attract more summer visitors and become a destination.
And a restaurant overlooking the water had recently become available.
“We looked at downtown Bar Harbor for a while,” said Musetti.
But Bar Harbor already had plenty of eateries and was congested with traffic during the summer, he said.
“This has been by far the best place we looked at,” he continued. “We really like our landlords. They’ve been helpful and responsive. The facility is beautiful. Structurally, it’s in great condition and we’ve got good equipment. The parking’s great.”
The partners wrote a business plan, gathered a team of consultants who are local acquaintances in the restaurant industry, and have financed the start-up mainly with their own savings plus a small loan from Machias Savings Bank.
“I’ve owned my own business since I was 12, so I have a good grasp on money-in and money-out and how to organize a company that’s cash flow positive,” said Musetti.
Fraley left his D.C. job several weeks ago.
“I quickly realized that life wasn’t for me,” he said. “We had this opportunity and I wanted to come back.”
The landlords, who own both the restaurant and the attached Kimball Terrace Inn, renovated the kitchen for them. The partners have invested about $20,000 in additional renovations that include new floors and installation of coolers and a lobster holding tank system for a retail seafood market that’s located in a carved-out area of the dining room. Their team includes an executive chef, Jennifer Delacerda, who has 25 years in the restaurant industry.
Fraley is taking on the role of manager while Musetti continues to fish and help out the new business where needed.
The operation will be seasonal, with plans to stay open this year until Nov. 1.
The retail market will offer lobsters, oysters, mussels, clams, fish and other seafood as it becomes locally available.
“We’ll try to buy as much off our friends and local fishermen as we can and source elsewhere when we need to,” said Fraley.
The two developed a website and are growing the company’s social media presence as part of their marketing strategy. They plan to take out ads and work with other business and organizations that are working to grow awareness of Northeast Harbor as a tourist destination.
Responding to the pandemic, they’ve modified their operating plan to include delivery and curbside pickup. They’ve worked out table and bar spacing in the dining room and on the deck to maintain at least a 6-foot distance. They’ve refocused the menu to include only dishes that will travel well for delivery, and have developed a suite of prepared meals that customers can grab-and-go.
“It’s just taken a little extra planning and precaution,” said Musetti.
They expect their customer base to be local year-round and summer residents, tourists and boaters, who can walk up to the restaurant from the nearby marina.
“We’re blown away by the support of our community,” said Musetti.
Said Fraley, “That’s part of the reason why we were so prepared to start a business in this community. There can be challenges here with the seasonality, but we’re in it to grow something great.”