From Our Readers | Love Letters to Restaurant Workers

For our June issue, we asked our readers to write love letters to Maine's restaurant workers.

During this dark, gloomy, stay-home and stay-safe season, the Black Harpoon has maintained a law-abiding safe space for all the long shots and tall-tale tellers who inhabit the St. George peninsula. The owner, Emily Gaudio, has kept the place open four evenings a week as a community service rather than as a business. And her all-lady staff of bartenders and waitresses have maintained their customary nondiscriminatory, equal-opportunity stance of not taking any guff off of lobstermen, fisherman, or landlubber malcontents such as myself.

While all the good cheer emanating from the place is noteworthy, a mention of the food is in order. The corned beef and cabbage served up on St. Patrick’s Day was the best this humble observer ever tasted. So, as happier times slowly return, make yourself even happier with a visit to this remarkable institution!

—Stephen Jonassen, Tenants Harbor

Working at El El Frijoles is hard, under any circumstances. It’s hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. We insist on doing things the hard way here. Everything’s made from scratch, so there is lots of arduous prep in the mornings, and making and serving our menu is a real challenge, especially during a busy summer season when we are feeding literally hundreds of people a day from this 9-by-22 kitchen in an old barn. The line is always stretching out, 20 or 30 people deep, into the parking lot. It’s humid, the fans are loud, we listen to questionable music, the phone always rings and rings . . . Both of us, the owners, are always here. The others have to listen to us as we parent, strategize, organize, bicker, fight, and sob.

But in a pandemic? Everything changes. We adapt, we shift, we roll with it. We’ve had to change nearly every aspect of our business to stay safe, to stay open, to feed the people in our community who are hungry for our food. All of a sudden, we can’t even let our customers into the taqueria at all! Overnight, we are taking phone orders exclusively, instead of not at all. Everything has to be packed to-go, and every interaction is taking place either on the phone or through the hole we cut into our front door. The entire concept of our business has been turned inside out, but still the customers keep coming, and the staff keeps cooking.

We started with the masks right away, in March, before it was even a thing. We moved to wiping everything with sanitizer, wearing gloves all the time for every task, built canopies, posted signs, organized lines for orders and pick-ups, wiped down credit cards.

But these guys took it all in stride. They adapted. They learned. They worked all summer in a 90-degree-plus kitchen with a mask on, gloved up. They stayed home, away from their friends, kept to their “pods.” They prepped and cooked and assembled and packed and rang up and served our food to a whole new wave of customers. The converts, the COVID refugees, the Summer People here in April, our neighbors, plus all of our dedicated regulars. It turned out to be our busiest year ever. We somehow managed growth, in a pandemic.

And now, here at the end of the second winter in COVID times, we are still here. Our staff (all of them!) are coming back to join us for yet another summer. Because of them we are still in business, still feeding our neighbors. Because of them, this May we’ll be making food for the people for our 15th summer, from this little barn, in the woods, in this little village on the coast of Maine.

—Michael Rossney, Sargentville

We summer on Orr’s Island. When we returned late in last year’s pandemic season, the Salt Cod Cafe was already open. For locals and visitors alike, it’s our go-to place for al fresco breakfast overlooking Harpswell Sound and the iconic Cribstone Bridge. I once heard a British couple say that the blueberry scones were the best they’d ever had. The owner walks them over, across her lawn, fresh from her oven. Even more special to us is the unfailing kindness and optimism of the staff. Hoping that summer 2021 will be easier on all.

—Mary C. Reese, Orr’s Island

A letter to Meg Joseph, the chef at the Black Harpoon in Port Clyde. While so many restaurants have remained closed or with limited hours during the pandemic, Emily Gaudio, the owner of the restaurant, has done her best to provide food to the people in the area. Meg, you are one of the most talented chefs. You certainly could have gone on to larger restaurants in more populated areas, but you stayed here in Port Clyde. You make everything from scratch. All of your deserts, dressings, breads, sauces, and ice cream are made by you. You continue to create new recipes every week, and we have enjoyed them all. Your creativity in the special dinners we have enjoyed doesn’t happen in many places. I have been able to test foods from so many countries without leaving the peninsula. Thank you for continuing to challenge our palates. We sure are lucky to have your talent so accessible to us.

—Barbara Sorg, Tenants Harbor

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