Restaurant in Houlton has a Lebanese twist

12 months ago

HOULTON, Maine — Creating Lebanese dishes is a labor of love for Barbara Ganem, who is bringing pieces of her heritage into her new restaurant on Houlton’s downtown Market Square square.

Slated to open early next week, Rise and Shine, located in the old First National Bank building, next door to the Temple Theatre, is offering a loaded hot and cold buffet in addition to Ganem’s famed Lebanese dishes like Ganem’s hearty Lebanese chicken soup.

“My friends from Bangor come up here for my soup,” she said. “They love it.”

Rise and Shine, a 38-seat restaurant with a full-service bar, joins a long list of new businesses that have recently opened on Houlton’s Market Square, including a bakery, a tea and yoga shop, restaurants, a crystal shop, a movie theater, a saber shop and a gaming store. 

There have been eight new businesses in the Market Square area recently, including two restaurants and two businesses bought out that remain open, according to the local chamber director.

 “The downtown area is full with one building undergoing complete renovation to retail and apartments,” said Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Houlton is one of 10 Maine towns taking part in a national plan to nurture small businesses in the National Main Street America 2022-2023 Entrepreneur Project, a partnership of the Maine Development Foundation, Maine Downtown Center and Main Street America.

Rise and Shine offers something for nearly everyone. The packed $17.99 lunch and dinner buffets include two main courses like Shepherd’s Pie and roasted chicken dinner and a salad bar, plus options like tuna salad, egg salad, or ham salad, soups, potato salad, macaroni salad, baked potatoes, scalloped potatoes, meatball subs, Italian subs and dessert. 

Several Lebanese foods will be on the buffet, including tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves and kousa, which is stuffed yellow squash, Ganem said. 

Making the tabbouleh and kousa takes patience. For the tabbouleh, which has a lot of fresh parsley, Ganem said each small parsley leaf must be picked piece by piece from the stalk. 

For the kousa, the cook must take a kousa scooper and remove the inside of the yellow squash before loading it with hamburger, rice and tomatoes, she said. 

Ganem emphasized that there are items not on the buffet, and customers can order single items from the buffet, like the chicken pot pie, or soup and a salad.

The $12.99 breakfast buffet includes scrambled eggs, quiche, ham, bacon, sausage, oven french toast, mini muffins, breakfast burritos, breakfast sandwiches, bagels and toast. Patrons can also just order doughnuts or pastry and coffee. 

The restaurant will feed seniors, 65 and older, for free on the first Tuesday of the month, Ganem said.

Additionally, there is 10 percent off for police and firefighters and a percentage of profits will go to Backpacks for Kids on Mondays, Feed the Seniors on Tuesdays and the Girl Scouts on Wednesdays, she said.

Previously Ganem owned the restaurant A Step in Time in this same location. When she opened her previous restaurant, she had to convert the space from a bank to a restaurant with a kitchen and bar area, although the bank’s old vault doors remain.

She sold a Step in Time, and there were two other eateries there, including the Handlebar Saloon, Houlton’s first biker bar, which closed in June. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting help, she said, adding that she has hired several people but is still looking for more. 

The last hurdle before opening is the state health inspection this week. If the restaurant gets the inspector’s OK, Ganem said she will call her distributors and they will open next Monday.

“I don’t want it to be a fancy restaurant,” Ganem said. “I want it to be clean and to have good