The Alna General Store is slated to change hands this summer. After five years of ownership, Ken and Jane Solorzano are welcoming a new partnership to its long list of local owners. Newcastle residents Jasper Ludwig and husband Brian Haskins will begin their plans with the building on May 1. The Solorzanos will serve their last tacos Friday, April 29.
The Solorzanos have operated the store since 2017, buying it soon after Ken’s retirement from military service. Although they had no business experience, they hoped a niche offering would give them an edge. In their business model, the goods and services stayed basically the same, and they added authentic Mexican cuisine using the traditions and recipes from Ken’s family. Feeding family and friends is a basic tenet for Ken; sharing his family’s food has been deeply gratifying. “We came to the store when ‘a taco stand on every corner’ was being deemed undesirable. It was fantastic to prove that wrong, we have so many regulars and people travel distances to enjoy my family’s food,” Ken said.
As people from away, and away from family, the Solorzanos have created family where they are, in Alna. “Honestly, I was surprised by Kenny’s interest in the store years ago, but we are fairly social, he loves feeding everyone, and I was very interested in the community aspect. We wanted to create a warm, homey space where everyone would feel welcome; I hope we succeeded,” Jane said.
While sustaining the store through the pandemic was challenging, the Solorzanos persevered by shortening the store’s open hours and running everything themselves. “Our community kept this store open through the hardest times of the pandemic, we got through the shutdown, the take-out and curbside only, the summer that wasn’t a “Maine summer,” all because our community kept their little general store in mind through it, and kept coming back,” Ken said. “We never felt isolated, we kept seeing our community, and we usually had time for conversations because business was slower, which made us feel very grateful and connected,” Jane said. “It makes our departure entirely bittersweet. We have enjoyed meeting and getting to know so many people from our community and from places all over the world. We will always treasure this experience of our lives.”
Haskins and Ludwig approached the Solorzanos in fall 2020 with interest in buying the store. The Solorzanos found many aspects of their vision “dreamy,” –locally sourced foods and goods, expanding the foods and market aspect for the store, a bakery, and much more. “We were utterly enchanted with these young, successful entrepreneurs wanting to make their way in Maine – and as a kid, Jasper had pancakes on Saturdays at the counter of this Alna store with her Dad; that meant a lot to me,” Jane said. For the Solorzanos, it was also the right timing. “We appreciate everything we have learned and gained from being the store’s owners, and we can see that the store’s potential will be well served by Brian and Jasper. (They) have years of experience in this field even though they are young, and we are super excited to see what they will bring to our community,” Ken said.
The Solorzanos will stay in Alna. They hope to enjoy being semi-retired and having time for their family and friends, and they plan on staying active in their community.