Joe’s Journal

Lobsterman’s Restaurant redux

Posted:  Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - 7:00am

While reading my favorite newspaper last week, the bottom six lines of a public notice caught my eye. It was the June 20 agenda for the Boothbay Planning Board.

Here is what it said: “Applicant seeks approval to remove and rebuild the wharf underneath the restaurant (Lobsterman’s Wharf), remove the current restaurant and replace with new building, replace pilings and foundation under the ‘fish house’ building and install a walking gangway from the jetty off Ocean Point Marina to the parking lot.”

What is going on? So on Saturday, I sat down with Dan Miller, who along with his wife Eileen, owns both East Boothbay icons.

A questionable set of pilings underneath the restaurant is driving the whole project. They have been there for a long time.

“We will have to replace the pilings sooner or later, and it made more sense to do it all at once and not have to worry about it for a while,” he said.

Of course, the first question I asked was if Paul Coulombe was involved in the proposed project.

“No, no,” said Miller. “I never talked to him.”

But Miller acknowledged that lots of folks would wonder if Coulombe was involved, given his track record of purchasing and upgrading Boothbay’s tourist venues.

Both the marina and restaurant are Miller family businesses. It was 18 years ago when the Millers bought the marina. Dan had never run a marina. He had spent time managing a high-end furniture business after putting in 10 years in the planning department of Bath Iron Works.

But the marina seemed right for the Miller family.

“We always wanted to own our own business. We liked boats (the couple met at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point), and we liked the waterfront…”

So they bought the marina and yard that had once been part of the former Goudy & Stevens shipyard and before that, Hodgdon Shipbuilding. Miller explained that having a restaurant attached to the marina is a plus for his customers. He had a few conversations with Hilary and Kathy Heaton who were then the owners of the restaurant, but nothing came of it.

The Heatons later sold the favorite gathering spot to Bill Murphy. Two years ago, the Millers talked to Murphy and got in the restaurant business.

One of the first things they learned was that the building had been “cobbled’ together. They were right.

In the 1930s, the wharf under Lobsterman’s had been a coal dock. Later it was a fish market where slabs of cod were salted and set out to dry on racks. In the late 1940s the old coal dock got a new look when Goudy & Stevens took the pilot house off an old minesweeper and set it on the planking. The restaurant just grew up around the pilot house.

Many remember when on sunny summer Sunday afternoons, a Dixieland Band, dubbed the “Clam Flat Five,” and other musical groups drew hundreds of locals and tourists to the wharf. The toughest thing about going to Lobsterman’s on a warm Sunday afternoon was finding a parking spot and finding a hyper-busy waitress to bring you a second drink. The eatery was also a favorite on weekends for its roast beef specials, in addition to lobster and fish dishes.

The Millers staffed the restaurant with family members and continued the tradition of good food and live entertainment, but feel the small outside dining space limits their customer’s experience.

“We found out that business is good when the weather is good. People want to sit outside and enjoy the view and we would like to enlarge the outside eating area,” he said.

But, first things first. They have to remove the building to replace the pilings and the wharf.

They also have to do something about the pilings underneath a nearby building they call “the fish house.” They also want to rebuild a jetty that once connected the marina to the restaurant parking lot.

What will be the design of the new building? How big will it be? When will they start?

Miller says it is too soon to know the answers to those questions.

“We have a lot of things to do before we start to make design plans and talk to a banker about financing.”

First on his list is to find out what local and shoreland zoning rules permit.

“We have to know what is allowed before we can make other plans,” he said.

One thing Miller did learn was that folks do read their local paper. After the public notice appeared, lots of people asked about his plans.

“Maybe I should put in a public notice of a twin lobster menu special,” he laughed.