PATTEN, Maine — Lunch patrons are already lined up at a new Patten restaurant when it opens for lunch, and again at dinner it’s a mad rush, said owner Jessica Stevens.
Before Stevens and her husband, Justin Stevens, opened the North Gate Grill in June, she was a bit nervous that people might not come, but the restaurant has been packed almost from the start. At first, Stevens thought it was because it’s new, but the patrons keep coming back, she said.
Her homemade macaroni and cheese sells out right away, and a recent fried haddock dinner special sold out twice, so will likely be added to the menu, Stevens said.
Patten, a small Katahdin-area town of about 1,000 people, has a handful of restaurants, a craft brewery and an event caterer. Surrounding towns have a few more small eateries and a quirky new restaurant slated to open this fall in Sherman. But many locals and visitors just passing through are finding their way to North Gate Grill, formerly Hanger Pizza.
“I’ve had a pretty good response so far. My mother-in-law has been in the industry for 25 years, so I know a lot of the ins and outs of it, but I’m actually pretty surprised on how well it’s gone. It’s been great,” Stevens said.
If social media is any indication, patrons are happy with the food, prices and service.
Stevens said some people come in every day for lunch and many others eat in the restaurant regularly, filling the three picnic tables outside and 31 dining seats inside and still forming a waiting line of people.
Although Stevens has been part of the food service business at Brenda’s, her mother-in-law’s Sherman restaurant, she was a hairdresser for 12 years and had 300 clients for her home-based salon. It allowed her to work and stay home to raise their three daughters, who are each two years apart.
But now children are getting older, and while she loved her hair salon business, she wanted to try something a little different, she said. She and her husband also wanted to find something where they could work together, and the opportunity fell in their lap, she said.
Justin works in construction and his boss bought a large parcel of land that used to be a small airport for ultralight and small planes, but his boss wasn’t interested in running a restaurant that was part of the land purchase, she said.
They now lease the restaurant.
The Stevens family began planning in March and their oldest daughter Jayden, 16, makes dessert, especially cheesecakes for the restaurant, and cooks. Jessica Stevens and her sister-in-law, Theresa Stevens, are the other two cooks.
“[Theresa] has been cooking for 25 years and two days after she moved back here, she started working for me,” she said.
Their middle daughter, Kenna, created the menu and named the restaurant.
Stevens said she wanted to keep some of the staples people were used to from the old Hanger Pizza, but she added homemade recipes and some of their family favorites, like quesadillas. People love Justin’s boneless chicken wings’ chipotle recipe, especially on all-you-can-eat Wednesdays, she said.
Stevens is active on Facebook, posting specials and photos of foods on the menu that day.
If the restaurant is a little slow, she posts without telling the staff, she said. The minute she posts, they start getting busy.
“I don’t even say anything to our other employees, and it gets busy and they say ‘you must have put something on Facebook didn’t you,’” she said.
Stevens tries to keep adding to the specials and change things up with at least one new item everyday, she said.
The owners applied to the town of Patten for a liquor license to add wine and beer to the menu and may appeal to another demographic, she said. They should have a response from the town this month.
Stevens said she is looking forward to the winter season. The restaurant is on a snowmobile trail and she is not sure what that will bring.
“I’m hoping we will have a good sledding season,” she said.