After nearly a year, Aroostook County can once again experience a Maine neighborhood pizza staple.
Pat’s Pizza in Presque Isle, the franchise’s only location north of Lincoln, reopened Nov. 30 with lines of people snaking out the door into the parking lot, one of its new owners said.
The eatery closed last winter, but in May, two local families — one with a special tie to the original restaurant — decided they wanted to bring back the popular spot and bought the franchise. It’s one of more than a dozen Pat’s Pizza locations from Presque Isle to Machias, a Maine staple started by C.D. “Pat” Farnsworth in Orono.
The eatery underwent months of renovations before opening in its same location in the North Street Plaza.
“It wasn’t even a question. We wanted Pat’s; we love Pat’s,” said co-owner Mark Kelley as he took a break from a busy lunch rush. “We just wanted it to be the way it was.”
Mark and his wife, Haley Kelley, along with Michael and Melissa Gallagher are partners in the venture. The deal had a special meaning for Michael Gallagher. His father, Brian Gallagher, opened the original Presque Isle Pat’s with partner Jack Belden in 1989, Mark Kelley said.
When Pat’s former owners closed the place last winter, it left a hole in restaurant options. Kelley and Gallagher hated seeing the pizza restaurant and popular gathering space closed.
The two have worked together for years and have a great working relationship, said Kelley, who also has a real estate and property management business and owns Country Farms Market in Washburn.
“I called him up and said, ‘Mike, you want to buy Pat’s?’ He said, ‘Yeah,’” Kelley said.
The restaurant had fallen into some disrepair, so renovations were a must. New floors, counters, tables and chairs, restrooms and a brand-new bar are among the changes, along with freshly painted walls.
The operators hired about 20 new staff members.
It’s been extremely busy, Kelley said.
Though the restaurant is still Pat’s, the couple named their corporation TALK Pizzas, an acronym from their children’s first names: Trey Kelley, 8; Andi Kelley, 7; Laney Gallagher, 10; and Kaden Kelley, 11. All four have been involved throughout the process and helped out in the restaurant, he said.
The couples owe their kids a lot for their patience during the whole renovation process, Haley Kelley said on the restaurant’s social media page.
“They have sat in booths to do homework, listened to daunting meetings, had potluck suppers during renovations and maybe even played hide and seek under the tables,” she said.
The restaurant makes all its items fresh each day, including the pizza dough, Mark Kelley said. It’s a Pat’s tradition.
Inside, customers will see varied seating, from high and low tables in the front to booths in the bar area.
While the couples downsized the menu at first, they already plan to expand food choices and offer take-out full time. Take-out is currently limited to when the restaurant is less busy, he said.
Jake and Krystal Flewelling sat in the busy restaurant with their daughter, Lily, enjoying the aromas wafting from the kitchen before their pizza arrived. The couple said they were glad to see the restaurant open again.
It’s still early days, but for Kelley there was one key moment that made it all come together.
“When that first pizza came off the line, it was the smell,” he said. “That definitely was the best first moment.”