TENANTS HARBOR — Many locals, and those versed in the Maine food scene, know Malcolm Bedell either from his writing, which includes co-authoring a book and regularly contributing to a variety of print and online publications, or his popular and cleverly-named Rockland-based food truck ‘Wich Please.
Now, Bedell is back with a new project: a modest eatery in his home town of Tenants Harbor called Ancho Honey, housed in a converted residence at the heart of the village. An attractive sign, handmade and painted by Bedell’s friend Shelly Colantonio presents the restaurant.
Bedell said he had been eyeing the antique farmhouse that is situated directly across from the local Baptist church atop the hill that descends toward the water and a portion of the town of Tenants Harbor.
The house was most recently the home of Sugar Tree Bakery, said Bedell, but the Tenants Harbor native said he recalls recent iterations that include a (still usable) takeout window where ice cream and lobster rolls were served for a time.
Outside the currently shuttered but easily revived window is a small patio space with several tables for diners. Bedell points out that among the many possibilities that he is discovering as he familiarizes himself with the intricacies and quirks of his new space.
“If I wanted to I could go back to serving from the takeout window,” he said with a chuckle. “It could happen.”
In all seriousness, the freedom of having a space and format that he could operate single-handedly if need be is appealing, and not dissimilar to the food truck format of his most recent culinary past.
Bedell described Ancho Honey as a restaurant that will deviate from traditional fare commonly associated with the Maine’s coastal region and fishing villages like Tenants Harbor, and that it will additionally differ from the restaurant service model that is familiar to most people.
“If there’s one principle that guides our menu choices, it’s my desire to share the foods that I love that I just can’t find without otherwise driving tens or even hundreds of miles,” Bedell said, in a news release.
Bedell explained that Ancho Honey will operate primarily as a takeout restaurant, offering a few indoor counter seats and the aforementioned seasonal patio tables. The aesthetic is attractive and well-curated, albeit completely sans frills. A small entry space welcomes visitors with a tiled installation above a decommissioned fireplace mantle. The tiled sign reads simply, “Ancho.”
The white walls invite visitors to contemplate the traditional architecture and its many incarnations, a hardwood floor painted a dramatic deep blue-green provides a pleasing juxtaposition.
The entry area is lined with shelves containing a few proprietary spice blends and condiments designed and packaged by Bedell. From his handcrafted version of “everything” bagel spice (for everything) to an addictive relish blend dubbed “sandwich crunch crunch,” the variety is unique and reminisce of Bedell’s reputation for creative riffs on everything from the most basic grilled cheese to a wide variety of inspired ethnic cuisines.
A chalkboard on the wall boasts a menu including an array of creative grilled cheese sandwiches, including the brie and blue sandwich that was among his most popular items at ‘Wich Please.
“I couldn’t open a new restaurant without putting the ‘Brie + Blue’ on the menu,” Bedell said , describing his ionic grilled cheese sandwich made with warm melted Brie cheese, crisp bacon, and Maine blueberry preserves, “I kind of feel like I might have incited a riot.”
Around the corner a slightly larger space features a case that holds items from the weekly menu, which Bedell said can be enjoyed on premise or taken home. Ancho Honey will even warm meals up for customers wishing to take them home to eat.
“We’re trying to occupy the space somewhere between a deli and a restaurant,” Bedell said. “We know that sometimes, you don’t want to go out to eat, but you may also want to try something new. My hope is that we become a stop on people’s weekly list of errands, where they can stop in, see what we’re cooking that week, and take something new and exciting home.”
Bedell, who grew up in Tenants Harbor and lives just two houses away from his restaurant, said he has been making a living as a writer since deciding to close ‘Wich Please. Still, the food service business called to him.
“I missed this business, there is something about this business for me,” he said.
He said that as summer whiled away he spent his days working on assignments for a variety of clients, but also staring wistfully out the window at his food truck.
“The thing I could never figure out what was to do when the leaves fell,” he remarked about the seasonality of the food truck business.
What appealed to Bedell was opening a business in the town where he grew up.
“I have this huge, long-term relationship with this town,” he said.
A friend of Bedell’s was the caretaker for the building that would become Ancho Honey, Bedell said he called him out of curiosity and within the hour he was looking at the building.
“I had no money for design,” he said. Adding that he knows, “a segment of the local population is likely burned out on [his] shenanigans,” including crowd-funding his food truck.
A close friend advised him to only commit to what he was financially comfortable with, thus he has opened with limited seating and works in the building’s existing kitchen.
Ancho Honey opened July 26, a mere six weeks after Bedell first viewed the building.
“I called in favors to all of my friends,” he said. “It was very much a group effort.”
Bedell said that with little overhead he feels a level of freedom to operate the type of establishment he feels inspired by. He added that it has historically been difficult to live in a highly seasonal community and not “feel a little abandoned” when the bulk of the businesses, which are largely seasonal, shutter for the year.
While Bedell knows his vision will evolve to find “ways the business can change to weather the storm” that is the impending winter months, he is determined to serve year-round and provide a staple for the population of his community.
He said he has entered a three-year lease with an automatic two-year renewal option.
“I am in it for the long haul,” he said.
Still, he knows that business in a seasonal town is an intricate economic proposition.
“I feel like I’m going into it with my eyes wide open.” He said. “I know crowds dry up but I believe there is enough of a year round population here.”
Bedell said that he hopes Ancho Honey will be a hub for the community. A spot to chat and pick up a warm, creative meal.
“I have always been interested in building and birthing communities,” he explained.
“I didn’t have any delusions,” he said of opening a small operation in a fickle market. Part of staving off the delusion was the creation of a retail space including many of the aforementioned self-made products. Bedell sees adding items from other artisan producers to augment the selection which will also be introduced for online orders.
“The retail products are selling like crazy. I had all these ideas that I would just have all this time to sit around and put stuff in jars, but it’s been busy,” he said with a laugh.
While any products that line his shelves will be small-batch, Bedell said he isn’t tied to the idea of exclusively Maine-made or local items.
“Anyone that’s trying new ideas, I want to support that,” he said.
Speaking of support, Bedell said the community has received Ancho Honey warmly. In fact, his Friday night specials, including Indian cuisine, Lebanese specialties and collaborations with chef friends including Tom Sigler formerly of Comida, have universally sold out.
Reach Jenna Lookner at email@example.com