BELFAST — When the Gothic Building in Belfast became available for use it left a void downtown. The storied building, owned by Todd French, was once the home of now world-famous eatery The Lost Kitchen, followed by several other establishments. Now, a new sushi restaurant has filled both the space and a niche in town. Satori opened on September 20.
Satori is the work of three talented restaurant professionals who were brought together by happenstance and a combination of each of their individual visions. French himself was the conduit that linked them.
French, a partner in the French and Webb boatyard, was visiting Palm Beach. He frequented the restaurant at Rybovich Marina where Rob Voudvihong was working as the sushi chef at an on-site eatery.
“Todd watched us roll 800 sushi rolls in one evening,” Voudvihong said. “He was impressed and he liked the food.”
Before French departed for Maine he had a conversation with Voudvihong.
“Todd approached me on his last day and asked if I had ever considered opening my own restaurant,” he said.
French described the Gothic space and his desire to have a sushi restaurant in Belfast.
Voudvihong said he thought it over, and with family at his side they planned a visit to Belfast.
“We all fell in love with the town,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jocelyn and Wind Tracy, both veterans of Maine’s restaurant scene, had been quietly mulling a variety of concepts. The couple planned to parlay their combined skills and restaurant savvy into their own establishment.
“We had been discussing different iterations and concepts,” Wind Tracy said. “Some got pretty far down the road and some were dead in the water.”
The pair had heard about the vacancy and had been eyeing the building.
“We always loved this space,” Jocelyn Tracy said as she gestured around the Gothic Building. “We remember the original Gothic.”
The Tracys sent a business plan to French and he told them he had been talking with Voudvihong, he suggested that the three might be onto something and arranged for them to meet during Voudvihong’s visit to Maine in July.
“We had dinner every night together,” Jocelyn Tracy said. “We really got to know each other. Wind and I are both restaurant people and Rob is, as well.”
“Jocelyn said to me, ‘these are our kind of people,’” Wind Tracy added.
Jocelyn said that it’s exciting to bring an inspired, skilled new chef to the Belfast culinary scene.
Voudvihong’s brother owns several restaurants and was able to advise on the opening. Voudvihong said that his brother advised that they could likely have the restaurant operating within six weeks.
The partners hosted a party for friends and family September 18, a soft opening September 19 and officially opened to the public on September 20.
So far, Satori has been a welcome addition to the Midcoast food scene and Jocelyn Tracy said they have had many repeat customers.
Voudvihong’s menu features sushi staples as well as creative additions unique to Satori. The menu will highlight fresh ingredients from farm and sea, with a local focus whenever possible.
Wind Tracy is known regionally for his skill as a bartender, from beautifully crafted classic cocktails to his own inventions, Tracy won Maine Bartender of the Year as part of a team in 2014. He explained how his concoctions dovetail with the sushi concept.
“Japan has a very rich and very well-respected cocktail culture,” he said. “It’s all about simplistic perfection there. In America we are constantly searching for new flavors and complex combinations. My goal is to combine those two concepts.”
Wind Tracy said he is using fresh edible flowers, microgreens and carefully crafted infusions. On their beautifully curated cocktail list is a drink called “Big in Japan” which he called “a complex riff on a classic highball.”
The drink combines thyme, sarsaparilla and citrus infused syrup.
“It’s all about the balance of flavors and combining the Japanese and American schools of thought,” he said.
Another part of Wind Tracy’s vision involves presenting a “mocktail” or alcohol-free cocktail list that is as thoughtful and interesting as their traditional cocktail list.
“I want to offer the same experience to those who choose not to drink alcohol or cannot drink alcohol,” he said.
The three partners – “restaurant people” — have experienced a variety of work environments and they believe that a culture of respect and ownership that extends to their entire team is a high priority. They see Satori as an opportunity to impart their professional experience on their staff and to instill a level of pride in the business and industry that is often overlooked.
“I remember being in my 20s and 30s and seeing friends get big corporate jobs,” she said. “Being in the restaurant business often came with a sense of failure. We want to change that mindset around what success looks like. It is so important to us to foster this culture of respect, if someone is having a bad night, we want to support them.”
In fact, Jocelyn Tracy has taken on a partner at her successful Pilates studio to concentrate on the restaurant after two years of building her business. She said she is excited for the partnership and what her business partner– a Brooklyn New York transplant– will offer to their client base.
For Wind Tracy the feeling is mutual.
“I hate the term mixologist,” he said. “Being a bartender should be a skill, a craft. Just because you are good at your craft you don’t have to make up a new title.”
The Satori team is also working with Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland to feature a rotating display of artwork with Japanese inspiration. Gallery owner Tom O’Donovan is in the process of brainstorming the curation process with them, but the trio said they are excited to showcase original art in the restaurant space.
O’Donovan said he and artist Kim Bernard of Rockland hung work in Satori during the second week of October.
“I got to know Wind from the other side of the bar,” O’Donovan said. “I always liked Wind and we started moving toward talking about ideas, hopes and dreams.”
O’Donovan feels that art in a restaurant space adds to the sensory experience.
“You have this beautiful nourishing food, beverages and spirits. Art just helps create a great mix of experiences.” he said.
O’Donovan had been brainstorming with the Tracys about previous iterations of a restaurant project, but said he had not spoken with them recently.
“I was walking by the Gothic Building and saw that the door was open, so I poked my head in,” he said. “The minute I walked in and saw Wind I said, ‘you’ve found your place.’” He added that he has always been an admirer of the building.
Bernard’s Asian inspired work struck him as a perfect fit for Satori. He noted the Asian influence and medium of her work.
“It just fits the environment and the ceremonies around sushi preparation,” he said. “I have never seen a body of work fit in a space better.”
He explained that Satori is his second off-site show, he also curates and hangs work at Rockland’s Primo.
As they get underway the partners are taking things slowly, rolling out new offerings as their team learns the ins-and-outs of the restaurant and staff receives training.
Future plans include offering lunch service and takeout begins the first week of October. Additionally they will add a number of hot items to the sushi menu and ramen offerings will begin the final week of October. Satori will be open year-round, with current hours Tuesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“We don’t want to hurry, we want this to be sustainable,” Jocelyn Tracy said.
The partners agreed that they have a great core staff which includes members of both Voudvihong’s family and the Tracys’ daughter, Bella, who is both a server and hostess.
While Jocelyn Tracy has an impressive resume which includes a stint as head chef at the revered – albeit now shuttered– Paolina’s Way in Camden, her experiences have familiarized her with every aspect of the business. Currently she is heading the front of the house as general manager at Satori.
Voudvihong was raised with a Buddhist background and said he began researching a name that would fit the goals of the restaurant. He explained that the word Satori means sudden enlightenment.
“It perfectly describes how we all came together,” he said.
Reach Jenna Lookner at firstname.lastname@example.org