New BBQ eatery set to open in place of iconic Presque Isle pub

3 weeks ago

“So a cop, a grocery store owner and a pallet maker walk into a bar,” reads the menu at the Maple Pig Bar & Grill in Presque Isle.

And when retired Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen, local IGA owner Josh Tweedie and pallet maker Travis Kearney walked into the shuttered Irish Setter pub last May, they decided to go into the restaurant business.

After months of work and renovations, the Maple Pig will open at 710 Main St. on Monday, Feb. 19, with a menu featuring barbecue and brick-oven pizza.

The site will enlarge Presque Isle’s dining options. Restaurants across The County took a hit during the pandemic and many closed for good. But as people have returned to dining in, the area has seen several new eateries join the scene, from family fare to barbecue to gourmet options. 

The trio at the Maple Pig wanted to create something new, Gillen and Tweedie said Monday.

“We could have stepped right in and operated it as the Irish Setter,” said Gillen, who retired in September. “But we wanted to be different than everybody else.”

After a complete redo of the decor, which includes a blue-hued interior, gray stonework bar wall, maple wood bar, metalwork maple leaves and a laser-etched smiling pig logo, Gillen thinks they’ve succeeded.

The popular Irish Setter Pub closed in November 2022 after 15 years, with owner Deborah Gustin citing health reasons. 

Gillen, Tweedie and Kearney met with Gustin and her husband, Sonny, to talk about their vision. They discovered they shared the same passion for sharing a warm atmosphere and good food in a well-run community establishment, Gillen said.

The trio bought the restaurant in May 2023. They are equal partners, with Gillen as the general manager. Boulevard Graphics of Presque Isle and Limestone created the logo and interior decor.

Gillen and Tweedie think a big draw will be pizzas, featuring their own dough and sauce, baked in a 6,000-pound, wood-fired brick oven from Italy with a rotating cooking stone.  

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — February 5, 2024 — Shawn Gillen adds wood to a 6,000-pound brick oven at the Maple Pig Bar & Grill in Presque Isle. The oven will cook the restaurant’s pizzas, sandwiches and more. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

As far as either of them know, theirs is the first oven of its type in Aroostook County and possibly even in Maine.

“Now that we’ve got this pizza oven going, I think that’s going to drive our business,” Tweedie said, adding they will also use it for meats, sandwiches and other items.

The oven is fire-safe up to 3,000 degrees, Gillen said as he tossed a piece of maple wood into the burner box. They usually run it around 728 degrees, which will cook a pizza in less than three minutes.

The men are no strangers to the kitchen. Both enjoy cooking and started collaborating in 2021, Tweedie said. They tested out a lot of ideas in their homes, but had no way to offer them to people. 

That changed last year. Kearney, who also manages Big Rock Mountain Ski Area in Mars Hill, hired them to run the mountain’s cafe and pub. After receiving widespread community support for that and their Hometown Proud food truck, the Maple Pig vision grew.

Both also like to cook with maple, and will use locally sourced maple syrup in various entrees, drinks and desserts.

“When we started doing the catering, it kind of became our secret ingredient,” Tweedie said. 

The owners have hired 52 full- and part-time staff, which include bar manager Jarraid Belanger, head chef Wyatt Harvey and head waitress Whitney Smith. 

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — February 5, 2024 — Leading operations at the Maple Pig Bar & Grill in Presque Isle will be head chef Wyatt Harvey, bar manager Jarraid Belanger and head waitress Whitney Smith. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

Harvey, originally from Monticello, graduated from the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. After a short stint in Chicago, he realized he missed Aroostook County and returned home, he said. 

The restaurant can seat more than 80 people, including 18 at the bar, Gillen said. The 16 taps are filtered inside from an outdoor unit. He pointed out the lack of televisions. 

“We would rather people would just come in and enjoy each other, and enjoy our food and drinks,” he said. 

For those who wonder why they chose the name Maple Pig, Gillen shared the story of a painting he had in his office of a pig taking a leap into a pond. It became an inspiration for him, Tweedie and Kearney as they took a huge leap of faith into their new venture.

Because they are busy with the new eatery, they are not running the mountain restaurant this year and likely won’t have time for the food truck. 

It’s been a learning curve to go from law enforcement into restaurant ownership, Gillen said. Though he’s a bit nervous about opening day, it’s been fun to see it all come together. 

For Tweedie, their past experience has been so rewarding that he can’t wait to open.

“Seeing people enjoying our food and mingling — we get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment out of that,” he said.