Market Pizza is newest dining destination in downtown Houlton

3 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — If the first month of business is any indication, southern Aroostook’s newest eatery has already carved out its slice of the food business pie.

Market Pizza, owned by Fred Grant, operator of Northern Maine Media/WHOU, opened its doors at 23 Market Square in mid-August to overwhelming business. In fact, the first day was so popular the business sold out and needed an extra day to restock its supplies.

The desire to open his own restaurant is something that had been brewing in the back of Grant’s mind for many years. He said he had often toyed with the idea of opening a restaurant to feed his passion for cooking and many of his friends often commented that his home-cooked pizzas were already restaurant quality.

“Six years ago our office decided we really wanted to open a pizza place,” Grant said. “So we started researching old recipes of pizzas that people really liked.”

The primary recipes came from popular bygone eateries: Curriers and G&L Market, pizza and sandwich businesses in the 1970s and 1980s.

Finding the right location proved more tricky than coming up with the perfect pie flavor.

“We couldn’t really find the right place at that time, so I kind of gave up on the idea,” Grant said. “But every so often, we would dust off the idea, and we looked at a lot of different places. None of them felt quite right.”

Elizabeth Masters (left) and Brooke Roberts of Market Pizza pile on the toppings as they make a pizza at the new Market Pizza. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

All that changed when the 23 Market Square property became available. Formerly home to Wired Cafe, the space had just about everything he was looking for in an eatery, except for the actual pizza ovens.

“When we walked in, I knew this was the place,” he said. “It has the largest kitchen in downtown. The countertop bar was there, all the lighting was in place. With everything closing, I felt the time was right to be doing something positive.”

Several members of his WHOU crew have also played a role in getting the restaurant up and running. Chris Putnam, a morning radio personality, helped locate the two pizza ovens for the eatery and has also overseen the addition of beer taps.

Other staff have been key in helping tweak the recipes by offering their services as taste tasters for the various recipes. Brian Lawler serves as the head cook for the business, and he took the initial recipes and tweaked them further.

Market Pizza features the traditional pick-your-own toppings for pizza, as well as several gourmet style offerings like Cajun Chicken Alfredo, BBQ Chicken and Nacho, Greek and one that has become increasingly popular — Potato.

The potato pizza features a layer of garlic mashed potatoes, cheese and bacon, served with a drizzle of sour cream and fresh scallions to give one the sense they are eating a loaded baked potato.

“We knew we had to have a potato pizza of some kind,” Grant said.

Market Pizza also offers chicken wings, garlic knots, calzones, desserts and salads along with several beers on tap.

Market Pizza in downtown Houlton features many call-backs to former businesses in Houlton’s Market Square, including replicas of the Perry Diamonds jewelry and Western Auto signs that once graced the downtown.  (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Decor for the restaurant is a distinct nod to the heritage of Houlton’s Market Square as the walls are lined with large print, canvas images from bygone eras in the Shiretown. In addition, there are recreations of some of the downtown’s more notable businesses, such as an illuminated sign for Perry’s Diamonds, a painted sign of Western Auto, and a metal sculpture of Holland and Company Houlton Book Store that was created by the Region Two School of Applied Technology.

“We knew we loved the downtown and wanted to have photos from the last 150 years,” Grant said. “As we were putting the photos together, we realized there were a lot of iconic businesses in town over the years that we wanted to highlight.”