UNION — A new chapter has emerged for a beloved Union eatery. Owners Jillian Lary and Brian Fickett, both 24, said that they are aiming to open the doors to Sterlingtown Public House in late April.
The Public House will occupy the location that formerly housed the Badger Cafe, an established and popular community eatery known for creative comfort food, a stellar beer selection and assorted trivia nights and events.
Badger Cafe owners Christy and Michael Greer said they decided to sell their thriving 11-year-old business in July after realizing it was time to move on. Taking the Badger name and their recipes with them, the pair relocated to Machiasport, where they will pursue new opportunities.
“We decided to stop when we wanted to, not when we had to,” Michael Greer explained in a February interview.
“Every year we saw growth and a solid local following,” Christy Greer added. “I love my people.”
“We’re just going to hit the reset button for now,” she said.
They explained that the couple who purchased the restaurant were among the first potential buyers to view it.
While they did not reveal the new owners’ names, they said the sale was a seamless one. The Greers confirmed that the space will remain a restaurant as it has been for 27 years, first as Hannibal’s and later as the Badger Cafe. The Greers said that the property and equipment were included in the sale, however the Badger name and recipes will remain with them.
Fast forward to late March and a new sign adorns the front of the building: Sterlingtown Public House, catalyzing excitement within the community. What will be next?
“We’d been in the market for a while,” Lary said. “We really wanted a live-in business.”
Fickett and Lary explained that the pair chose “Sterlingtown” after one of Union’s early names.
“I did a little more research and realized it was only called Sterlingtown for about four months,” Lary said with a chuckle, “but we have found that a lot of locals know it.”
According to Wikipedia, the Knox County town of Union was was settled on July 19, 1774 as Taylor Town after the original settler, Dr. John Taylor of Massachusetts. At that time, Dr.Taylor purchased Union for a sum of £1,000. Later, on May 3, 1786, it was organized as the Plantation of Sterlingtown, but that moniker was, indeed, short lived. The town was incorporated as Union on October 20, 1786.
The duo is busy putting their touch on the restaurant which Fickett said will have approximately 40 seats. A 12-line draft system will replace the six-line system previously in place, and will continue the Greer’s tradition of delivering an inspired and vast beer selection to guests. Wine selections will also be available.
The couple describes the menu as “upscale comfort food,” adding that it will contain appetizers, salads, handhelds and entrees.
They said that they anticipate a menu that will change with the seasons and the availability of product, utilizing a mix of local ingredients and ingredients from various distributors.
Menu items will include beef bulgogi, a Vietnamese inspired dish, fish and chips, thai lettuce wraps and a local charcuterie selection as well as a variety of other dishes.
“We want to make sure we’re the kind of place that has something for everyone,” Fickett said. Lary’s background equips her to design items for those with dietary restrictions, she said they will carry Udi’s gluten-free breads and will also have menu options to excite gluten-free and dairy-free diners. Vegetarian and vegan selections will also be offered.
“We are really looking forward to playing with specials,” the pair said nearly in unison. With the Union Farmers’ Market just steps away and opening for the season May 10, menu additions might be created on a whim, inspired by the bounty of the Friday afternoon market.
Lary and Fickett explained that they have been eyeing a commercial space in the greater Midcoast area while living in Liberty, where Lary has worked in the tasting room at Lake St. George Brewing (she still holds a position there) and, for a time, Fickett worked as a bartender at Hoxbill in Camden.
The pair met as students at the University of Maine, Orono. Fickett is a Hampden native with deep family ties to Union and Lary hails from Hopkinton, Massachusetts. She recalls her childhood summers in Rockland with affection, much as Fickett marvels over the breadth of family history that is seemingly threaded throughout Union’s story.
“Both of us have deep ties to Maine,” Lary said.
She added that Fickett’s mom, Susan, is an integral team member at the restaurant, fulfilling a passion for the business that began when she ran a bar and kitchen many years ago in Searsport.
“[Fickett’s family] has been super supportive and helpful,” said Lary.
Despite those fond memories, Lary said that she knew barely anyone local when they two moved to Liberty where Fickett’s family also resides. She said she was immediately heartened to find the community that she has through her work at Lake St. George Brewing.
“I didn’t know anyone and they just wrapped me up,” she recalls. Currently, a collaboration between Sterlingtown and Lake St. George is underway and will yield the first iteration of the Sterlingtown house beer.
Pressed for details, the two smiled. They said they are considering a beer release and information will be forthcoming.
Fickett holds a degree in International Business Management and has a strong passion for craft beer that has taken him overseas to Germany in his quest to discover and learn. Lary holds a degree in food science and nutrition with a concentration in dietetics. She said much of the menu is inspired by food she has “been cooking her whole life.”
“Beer and food has been our whole relationship,” Lary said.
“And it’s been great,” Fickett added.
Fickett said he has been working with many distributors and contacts as they develop their beer program. But he’s quick to add that “the whole theory here is really a team effort.”
“We love the craft beer culture,” he said, “there will be a big focus on that.”
Both parties will share duties in the kitchen and the front of the house, and a staff of five or six– owners included– will open the restaurant. They added that they are still looking to fill one kitchen position.
“It’s going to be all hands on deck,” Fickett said, “we have the youthfulness and the energy, we’re just really excited.”
“I joke that we bought our first house and it’s great for entertaining,” said an animated Lary.
Built in 1835, the property includes an apartment and a sizable post and beam barn that is not easily visible from the roadside. Inside the barn, they discuss percolating plans for use of that space and how lucky they are to have it. Like most barns of its era, the air is thick with history and each board begs to tell a story.
“We’ve both always been such old souls,” Lary said.
The enthusiasm and support between the two is palpable as they exchange laughs, often finishing each other’s sentences, but also providing their individual strengths to bringing their vision to fruition. They are doing most of the renovation work together, setting the stage for the new chapter of their partnership.
The two mused about the support they have received, from the elegant handcarved sign created by Todd Martin, an artist that Lary met in Liberty, to other local business owners welcoming them with open arms.
“That’s one of the things I love about the Midcoast,” Fickett said. “Everyone just seems so excited to embrace new things.”
Sterlingtown Public House will be open six days a week, year-round. To start, they will be closed Monday, and open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
“The bar will be open until close,” Lary said, “we really want people to feel comfortable hanging out here.”
Just like their predecessors, Sterlingtown promises to deliver a delectable brunch both Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re working on some great items, including some fun breakfast beverages,” Lary said.
To keep up with Sterlingtown Public House follow them on Facebook and Instagram @sterlingtownpublichouse, a website will also be launching soon.
“I’m kind of the techie,” Lary said, expressing her excitement about the website and a blog she hopes to host there.
She hopes to continually engage the community with a welcoming presence, both online and on location.
Reflecting on their decision to settle and start a business in the greater Midcoast, the pair said they had zeroed in on the region for a number of reasons. That stated, they approached their endeavor purposefully, looking at several businesses prior to buying their restaurant.
“We wanted to be here, but we wanted the perfect thing.” Lary said. “Opportunity in Maine isn’t always easy to find or readily available, I really feel like this was meant to be.”
Looking out from the spacious day porch on the front of the building, which will be home to a counter where patrons can enjoy a drink while looking out over the Union Common, Fickett points out a road sign named for one of his relatives.
“It’s all come full circle,” he said of the intersections and ventures in his life and the lives of his Union-born ancestors. “Everything is full circle.”
Reach Jenna Lookner at firstname.lastname@example.org