LIBERTY — When Lisa Fagin and her husband, Richard, purchased their vacation home in Belfast it was initially to escape the hot Texas summers. With her husband working from home, Fagin took the opportunity to explore Maine. Ambitious and with a business background, Fagin initially saw the need for a casual bakery with generous hours in, or near, Belfast. Her vision rapidly evolved, and she plans to open her new eatery, La Mesa, on Dec. 14.
La Mesa is at the corner of routes 3 and 220 in the space that formerly housed the Corner Restaurant, though Fagin notes that the “building is practically new” following extensive renovations since she purchased it at the end of October 2016.
Construction included an addition that houses the eatery’s comfortable bar area. She noted that having a separate bar space creates an atmosphere that is both family friendly and fun, providing slightly different vibes in the dining room and the lounge area.
The dining room is bright and cheerful, and the walls are adorned with pieces from a home decor store that Fagin formerly owned in Richmond, Texas. She said that many of the items were sourced from Mexico, including a sculptural glass chandelier that hangs in the bar area, and bright glass bowls that hang throughout the dining room.
Multicolored wooden galley doors on the kitchen match the wood on the underside of the bar, and Fagin said all those materials were repurposed from the Corner Restaurant during the renovation. Even the restrooms are outfitted with colorful, gleaming subway tiles in keeping with the decor.
“My taste is really eclectic, and that’s reflected in every area of this place,” Fagin said, with a laugh.
She envisions building a good local following, particularly opening as Maine battens down its hatches for winter. She has already spoken to local snowmobile clubs and said that numerous trails run near La Mesa making it a convenient place to stop, warm up, and get a good meal and beverage. A designated parking area for snowmobiles will be available, she added.
In the summer, she believes the location will provide an attractive stop for those traveling on Route 220 and Route 3, making for steady year-round business. She said she plans to add a small play area for kids on the property and eventually construct a dance hall. Additionally, a pergola will be constructed to create an outside seating space adjacent to the bar.
Initially, Fagin’s hunt for a suitable space began in Belfast. She had her eye on a building there that she said remains on the market. A realtor herself in Texas, Fagin said she had just met with her broker in Maine and happened to be driving out Route 3 when she noticed the highly visible location was on the market.
“Finding the building was a fluke,” she said, “somehow, I had never noticed that it was for sale.”
Though the building was in need of repair, Fagin said her vision began to evolve the moment she peered through the window. Alhough her husband was skeptical, she closed on the building after several weeks of negotiations. Renovations began in January of this year.
Fagin said she plans to spend six months of the year in Texas and has hired a general manager, a kitchen manager and a bar manager. With just over a dozen staff already hired, Fagin said she is on her way to meeting one of the goals that inspired her to open a business in Maine: Creating jobs in places where they are most needed.
“One of the reasons I wanted to open a business here was to create jobs here,” she said. “I felt it would also be more fulfilling to have a business in Maine that would allow me to meet new people.”
She said some college students have already applied for summer employment.
Fagin said crafting the menu has been a fun, and constantly evolving, experience. La Mesa will be open for lunch and dinner, though Fagin said they will consider adding breakfast during the summer months. She anticipates opening the restaurant at 11 a.m. and closing the kitchen at 9 p.m. The plan is to keep bar service going until midnight.
The menu will include a variety of sandwiches, fresh house-made soups and baked goods to suit all palettes, in addition to 14 varieties of tacos all served on a choice of house made corn or flour tortillas. Seasonal specialties will include Texas barbecue in the summer, as well as lobster with poblano crema, to name a few.
Specialty sandwiches will be among the year-round offerings, including a Mollete sandwich that Fagin explained is made on a torta roll filled with smashed beans, avocado and cheese.
“It’s a simple go-to sandwich back in Mexico,” she said.
When asked about favorites on the extensive taco menu, Fagin and her team faced a tough deliberation.
“I love them all,” she said.
Among the tacos offered will be a vegetarian fried avocado taco, a classic Mexican style beer battered haddock taco which Fagin described as “light and buttery,” and an al pastor taco which includes specially seasoned rotisserie cooked pork, lime, cilantro, cotija cheese and onion.
“It’s a very traditional Mexican street food taco,” Fagin said.
While some ingredients will be sourced locally, Fagin also plans to use many native spices that she will bring from Texas.
“Many spices will be coming from Texas that are just not available here,” she said.
Additionally, La Mesa will feature signature house made salsas and slaws.
Fagin’s original concept of desert offerings is very much alive. Deserts will include specialty baked goods including cakes and cookies made from a recipe developed by Fagin’s grandmother, ice cream with special toppings or “mixers” will also be offered, and La Mesa will be producing their own waffle cones.
The menu is designed so that both takeout and eat in orders will be easy to accommodate.
Fagin explained that she intended to open La Mesa in June 2017, but extensive renovations were necessary and delayed the opening. Fagin applies a positive attitude to the delay.
“It will help us ease into things, once summer comes, we’ll be prepared and know what to do,” she said.
A specialty wine list is being crafted to pair with the flavors on the menu by a wine distributor who is also a sommelier.
“There are many complex flavors on the menu, we want to offer wines that complement them,” Fagin said.
Eight draft beers will be offered, and exciting specialty cocktails will be available. Fagin said the restaurant will offer an affordable price point and a children’s menu will be available.
“When you come here, you’re coming for an experience, not just the food, but an experience,” Fagin explained.
That experience applies to Fagin’s employees as well.
“It’s important to me that my employees love being here, I don’t ever want anyone to be stressed at work,” she said.
Jenna Lookner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org