‘Round Town

Hot beer, lousy food, bad service

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 6:30pm

“Hot Beer. Lousy food. Bad Service,” reads a sign nailed to the side of Dunton's Doghouse in Boothbay Harbor.

If people didn't know better, they might make a fast exit.

But the truth is there’s no beer, hot or cold; the food is anything but lousy; and the service — well, the service is different.

That's because the guy serving the food is Gary Starankewicz. The Doghouse's popularity is due as much to Starankewicz's outgoing personality as it is to the good, reasonably-priced food.

As noted by the T-shirts he sports, Starankewicz tells it like it is. He's as outspoken as he is congenial. There's no skirting an issue at Dunton's. It is what it is and if you don't like it, get over it and enjoy the food.

Dale Harmon, who ate at the walk up hot dog/hamburger joint every couple weeks this past summer, said next summer he and his companion, Beth Johnson, will come more often.

“I haven't eaten here as much as I'd like this summer,” Harmon said. “If it wasn't for Gary this place wouldn't be nearly as good. We love the food, but mostly we like the character behind the counter.”

The character behind the counter has been serving his burgers, hot dogs, French fries, onion rings, crab rolls and an array of specialty items since he bought the Doghouse 14 years ago. Ed Dunton started the business in 1972, and passed it on to his daughter, who sold it to Starankewicz in 1999.

He puts in 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week from mid-April to mid-October every year. He said his mother used to do all the baking of the delectable desserts. She died a few years ago, and now it's all up to him.

“Everybody who's anybody stops in here,” Starankewicz said. “We have people who eat here five days a week, and we appreciate it. You've gotta give back to the community. People keep coming back year after year, and then their kids come.”

Along with a lot of locals, people come from all over Maine, Lewiston, Skowhegan, Saco and other places, as well as nearby communities. “Melanie Steane (former owner of Rocktide Restaurant) used to come a lot. We had a parking spot saved just for her.”

Starankewicz has a closing party every year around the middle of October. It’s for his loyal customers to show his appreciation, and it’s all free. “We're trying to do a good thing for the town and all the people who support us,” he said.

On October 15, Starankewicz threw his 14th closing party. A few days before the party, Starankewicz said he was expecting 300-400 people. “They come from all over. People from Texas who came during the summer have flown up for the buffet.”

“It's a big ordeal,” he said. “It's amazing who and what we see. “Including people who were never customers during the summer. He said they have some good excuses. Like, “Oh, we send someone to pick up our food. That's why you never see us.”

Starankewicz spends two days prepping and cooking food for the buffet, and his neighbor lets him use her spacious yard to fill with picnic tables laden with food.

It's not his way of getting rid of unused food. It's all bought and prepared especially for the buffet. And there's a lot of it. After most of the 350 or so people had wandered off with full bellies, there were still tin pans and trays full of good food.

Alden Jordan, a regular during the summer, said this year’s closing party was really good. “Gary went all out. He did a good presentation. But the seagull wasn't there.”

Jordan said there was often one gull standing sentry on the roof of the doghouse, waiting for someone to drop a morsel, or even just leave his seat for a moment. “If you put your sandwich on the table, and go to get some ketchup, there's a good chance it won't be there when you get back.”

Another sign hanging on the side of the Doghouse reads: “Don't feed the seagullz.”

With a clear blue sky, a warm breeze coming off the ocean and Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” playing in the background, Starankewicz said he was pleased with the outcome of his closing party this year. “It was a great turnout. Outrageous weather. Great to see all the people having a good time.”

Then in true Gary Starankewicz fashion he added, “If we ain't got it, you don't need it. Free salt and pepper with every meal.”