CAMDEN — Ken and Del Paquin, owners of Atlantica, sat in the Captain’s Nook upstairs at their restaurant. They took a deep breath and reflected on 16 years of business on Bayview Landing. Ken Paquin described it as, “challenging and delightful.”
“One reason is the bounty of product you can use to cook with,” said Ken. “I’ve always enjoyed seafood and thought of myself as very apt at cooking fish. That’s what we became primarily a seafood restaurant because the quality has been a pleasure.
Atlantica opened its doors on May 5, 2000. The Paquins said 80 to 90 percent of their product has come from Maine.
“I was particular over the last eight or nine years in developing a relationship with many of our farms at the Farmer’s Market,” said Del. “We have probably eight farms that we buy from on a regular basis. By regular, I mean at least twice a week. They’ve all said they’re sorry to see us go.”
“It’s a lot of produce,” said Ken. “When you cook from scratch, you use a lot of produce.”
“People notice the difference,” said Del. “Customers say it’s the best salad they’ve ever eaten because it was just picked fresh that morning and not out of a bag. And I’ve had customers say it was great all the way down to the vegetable.”
Ken said that daily inspiration is simply he loves what he does.
“I love what I do,” said Ken. “I’ve researched, I’ve read, I’ve always kept up with things. I love spontaneity, I love the seasons and I love associating textures and flavors, so it’s a daily inspiration that comes from the heart.”
Both Ken and Del agreed that it was not unusual to see the same person or couple year after year come in the restaurant.
“All the time, year after year,” said Ken. “It happened just the other night. A German couple from New Jersey who make their patronage every year to Bar Harbor stopped in for dinner on their way. They were aging and I was wondering if I was going to see them again this year. And there they were, and there were hugs and it was sad. They were sad we were leaving.”
Ken said he knew this day would come.
“I’d already had quite a few years under my buckle,” he said. “I knew it would come, I just didn’t know how soon or how late it would be. Sixteen years is a good run and now after a 43-year career it’s time to rest the legs.”
Both Ken and Del agree it’s time to rest and hibernate a little bit. They agreed there has been little time to think about long range plans and the big future down the road, but they both agree they’ll be taking a summer off next year.
“It’s time for Del and Ken to enjoy Maine, just like all the people we speak to,” he said.
“We’re not true Mainers, but like true Mainers we work all summer,” said Del. “Now it’s time to enjoy the beauty, see the water and the hills. It’s going to be fun to just go hang around Maine and see the things we hear so many people talk about as they pass through. I want to visit Katadin and go hiking and kayaking.”
Ken said he was not normally an emotional person, but it’s been hard to see people with tears in their eyes saying, “where can we go eat, we come every summer.”
“They’ve been very complimentary and appreciative about the whole 16 years,” said Ken. “They’ve been very appreciative about the consistency we bring to the plate and the training of the staff. Del has really tried to train the staff to give that presentation at the table and that’s been a really nice part of the experience here.”
Longevity of some staff was one thing that made Atlantica feel special.
“Our head bartender, Kris Kurek, was with us right from the beginning to the end,” said Ken. “He’s a school teacher and he’s back at school now and not here tonight, but he was a wonderful person to have all these years.”
“He was a wonderful bartender,” said Del. “He started off as a waiter and as he got older he wanted to get out from the serving, so he went to the bar and he literally became my right-hand man.”
A distinctive part of Atlantica was its unique bar, which was apart from the traditional polished, wooden bars that adorn many eating establishments.
Del described the origin of its design.
“It was many years ago we were in Myrtle Beach and we went into this bar and the bar was a mosaic,” she said. “It consisted of nice little tiles and I think it was grapes, but I thought it was really interesting and it stuck with me.”
“When we got the bar here, it was brown and nondescript and kindof ugly, so we decided we were going to change it,” Del said. “We came up with the circular design and all the tile work on there is just broken plates from when we did a lunch service. They were decorative and colorful, but because of a chip or crack in them we couldn’t use them.”
“A lot of them were broken because she threw them at me,” said Ken. “Del did build the bar. She did it all by herself.”
“I didn’t realize how much work it would take,” said Del. “But I kept at it one section at a time. It was very time consuming. The broken plates were all uneven; they’re different thicknesses, so you spend a lot of time getting them just right because you have to be able to set a bottle of wine and a glass on it. It took 100-plus hours to do the bar.”
What will happen to the bar when Atlantica closes?
“It’s coming out and coming home with us,” both Ken and Del agreed. “I couldn’t imagine leaving it here and taking a chance on it being demolished. We’re thinking of remodeling our kitchen and we’re thinking of trying to use it there somehow. And you never know, I might decide to do bars. Everyone says I should do it, so you never know.”
Looking back, both Ken and Del say there are no regrets about their 16 years in Camden at Atlantica Restaurant.
“I couldn’t have done it without Del by my side,” said Ken. “The guests that we’ve had over the years have been what have kept it going. It’s the recognition at the end of the night, people coming over to the line and it’s just what keeps you going. There are so many people to thank I couldn’t begin come up with all of the names.”
“Working together as a couple we were right on,” said Del. “It’s time to reinvent ourselves, reinvent our future. Stay the same people that we are, but on a different path.”
Friday, October 23, was Atlantica’s official last night of business. On Saturday, 24, the restaurant was filled with invite-only patrons, who were treated to a 15-course meal prepared by Ken and his staff. It was a gracious and fabulous way to say thank you and goodbye.