PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For more than 20 years, Tony and Sherry Sullivan have owned and operated the Presque Isle location of the Maine-based franchise Governor’s Restaurant.
The couple have found great joy in continuing the restaurant’s traditions of good food and lasting friendships and look forward to many more years of serving generations young and old.
“I remember the day we first opened,” Sherry Sullivan said. “It was the middle of January and there was a snowstorm going on, but people were lined up out the door.”
The Sullivans were living in Brewer, where Sherry Sullivan is from, in the late 1990s when they learned of plans to begin a Governor’s Restaurant in Presque Isle. They knew Leith and Donna Wadleigh, the owners of the original Governor’s in Old Town, through a mutual acquaintance and expressed interest in returning to Tony Sullivan’s hometown.
Once they arrived in town in 1997, the couple soon began transforming the 350 Main St. building, which formerly housed the Carriage House Restaurant, into a cozy, family-oriented space with two main dining areas, a private room for larger gatherings and a kitchen.
The restaurant employs 50 people, including servers, cooks and bakers, which is around the same number as when the business first opened.
Prior to owning Governor’s in Presque Isle, Tony Sullivan was a salesman and terminal manager for Roadway Express, a cargo and freight company, while Sherry Sullivan worked as a restaurant server.
Over the years they have renovated Governor’s three times but have worked to maintain its historical value by incorporating local photography and filling the rooms with seasonal-themed antique decorations that reflect The County’s rural traditions and lifestyle.
Despite the often hectic days of running a restaurant, Sherry Sullivan said that the past two decades have taught her and her husband the value of working hard to serve customers.
“It’s a very hard business to be in, but we have a fantastic staff, many of whom have been with us for over 20 years,” Sherry Sullivan said. “Our bakers come in at 2 o’clock every morning to stock the bakery and there’s someone here every day until midnight.”
The Governor’s franchise has its roots in Old Town, where the Wadleighs began an ice-cream stand called Creemee’s. Over time the couple expanded the business into a full restaurant in order to offer year-round service.
The original restaurant is celebrating its 60th year in 2019.
The name “Governor’s” came from how Leigh Wadleigh frequently said, “Good day, Governor” or “How are you today, Governor?” when greeting customers. There are now six Governor’s locations in Maine — Presque Isle, Bangor, Old Town, Lewiston, Waterville and Ellsworth.
As Governor’s became a staple in the Maine restaurant business, both residents and tourists grew to love famous menu items such as homemade rolls, whoopie pies and other desserts. The Sullivans developed their own niche in Presque Isle by offering catering services to local business luncheons, weddings and other special events.
Today the Wadleigh’s son, Randy, and his wife Angela run the five Governor’s Restaurants in southern Maine while the Sullivans have managed the Presque Isle location from the beginning.
The Sullivans, too, have seen the business become a family tradition. Their four children have all worked in the restaurant and their son Matthew hopes to one day take over the business after his parents retire.
Sherry Sullivan credits much of Governor’s success to their customers, many of whom come to enjoy the restaurant’s homestyle food regularly. She said that over the years getting to know customers is like welcoming new people into their family.
“We have a lot of elderly couples who eat here every day. It’s especially sad when you see only one of them come in one day and you find out their spouse has passed away,” Sherry Sullivan said.
For the servers at Governor’s it is not uncommon to know certain customers so well that they know exactly what food they’re going to order, Sullivan noted. That is true for longtime server Rose Rodriguez, who has worked at Governor’s for 21 years.
“I think a lot of our customers feel at home here,” Rodriguez said. “With the staff it’s like we’re a family, too, because a lot of us have been here a long time.”
Running a small town restaurant has helped the Sullivans become personally involved with their community. They have served in the Presque Isle Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs and Sherry Sullivan is currently the board of directors president for the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce.
While looking ahead into the future the Sullivans hope to continue the Maine tradition of community in Presque Isle that the Wadleighs began 60 years ago in Old Town. Although they have no plans to retire yet, the couple looks forward to keeping the restaurant in the family and welcoming various generations of community members through their doors.
“We’ve been lucky to form many wonderful and long-lasting friendships,” Sherry Sullivan said. “It’s a happy, close-knit community and we like being part of it.”