Chowder House to downsize to functions
After 40 years, Bob and Sally Maroon are bidding farewell to hosting daily traffic through the Chowder House. And with a desire to end the season quietly, they plan no big celebrations or hurrahs to mark the end of that run, because the Chowder House will be open next season for private functions, Bob said.
“People said 'Oh, did somebody buy it?' and 'Are they tearing down the building,'” Sally said. "I'm like 'No!' I said the building's going to look the same, the kayak shop that's rented from us for almost 30 years, they'll still be there. It won't look any different … and, no, it isn't sold. We'll just have more time to talk to people.”
The Maroons love the building and have ever since they bought it for Bob to run his wood carving shop.
For years, the building accommodated nearly 10 spaces for small businesses to rent, but eventually the Chowder House needed every square inch. Even the wood shop was put away.
“This building was an open empty barn … so he built everything … He would tear down boathouses and use the clapboards to look old, but there were no windows in the back, no deck, no pier … Everything you see Bob built to look old.”
The windows in the back come from Hendricks Head Lighthouse. Most of what hangs on the walls is Bob’s original art or interesting artifacts the Maroons have happened upon in their 40 years of building the iconic Boothbay Harbor business into what it is today – like the enormous brass hinge from the Bounty that hangs inside. The inside bar is made of driftwood and, of course, the outside bar – the “boat bar” – is a 30-foot sailboat the couple would not dream of putting in the water.
“That's why I wouldn't sell it. It's got too much personal – we just can't leave,” Bob said.
The Maroons operated the Chowder House as a full restaurant for 26 years before deciding to downsize to the famed boat bar and a limited menu. Bob said it made it more fun and was a great way to disprove two theories about food service in coastal Maine: the need for a fryolater and boiled lobster.
“We never had a fryolater and they told me when we started that we'll never succeed if we don't have a fryolater for French fries and clams and all that. Never once did we have one – or boiled lobsters.”
The Boothbay region has over 60 businesses to sit and eat at, Bob pointed out. When he and Sally started theirs, there were only seven.
“It was rockin' and rollin',” said Bob. “It was such a hit … and I can't say any year was not fun. It was always a blast. That's what we hate giving up is the socializing. And the youth.”
The Maroons think about that quite a bit looking back. Throughout the years, many of the high school kids and college kids from town worked there, Bob said.
“A thousand if you think about it,” he said. “They'll come in pushing a stroller years later saying how they loved the summers working here … And we were camp counselors basically. That's what we were sometimes – help the kids through their romances and failures, talk them out of it, go back to school.”
Sally is amazed at some of the things their former high school employees have gone on to do in their lives and careers . “The kids that have worked for us have become very successful, I don't care if they're airline pilots, superintendents, brain surgeons, principals, teachers. Everybody has really done well.”
So who ate the last bowl of chowder? The Maroons said it’s a debate, because the last customers were a large group, but Bob would like to think it was Ted Kennedy Jr.
The last customers as a daily restaurant were the families of Kennedy Jr. and the late John Tunney. Bob said the entourage visited to spread the ashes of the former California senator who passed in January.
“They came in here because they loved it,” said Bob. “It was awesome and it was good closure for us. We're finishing this season on a high note.”
The Maroons are simply further downsizing, to special events and bookings. The couple said now people can just stop by and say “hello” anytime. “The Chowder House is 40 years old and strong,” they said.