Imagine serving 200 made-to-order meals each morning in a kitchen only a little bigger than an average closet, receiving awards from fellow restaurateurs, and smiles from delighted customers, and you have a pretty good idea of Lorie Demers’ superpower.
Demers, the “Mama D” behind the cafe of the same name on Union Street, is a wiz at combining interesting, fun surroundings with delicious food so that a table at her place is prized by visitors and residents alike. If you are heading there for breakfast or a light lunch, you know you will have a wonderful meal in a fun setting.
While some of her magic could be inherited – her grandmother had a mercantile in Lewiston – Demers’ career steps came from childhood experiences with her family. “I loved food and people gathering as a French family. It was always such a good feeling, people who were happy and smiling and it went together with food.”
Born in Lewiston, Demers and her family moved to Canada where she worked in restaurants while she attended school. For the past 31 years, she has owned cafes in Boothbay Harbor, starting with Black Coffee Cafe for six years. Biscotti Cafe at Pier 1 was the next location for eight years and finally Mama D’s for the past 17.
She fondly remembers Joe Sirois asking her back in the day when she opened Biscotti Cafe, “Who would pay $3 for a cup of coffee?”
These days, the beverages offered at Mama D’s include organic fair trade Wicked Joe's Coffee in a range of strengths and flavors, chai, hand crafted lattes or cappuccinos as well as specialty drinks. The basic cup of coffee (self-serve) includes a free refill. If patrons are looking for something a little more spirited, there are wines, beer, mimosas and a “Tipsy Tomato” bloody Mary.
Asked how she happened to open in her current location, Demers said she left the downtown area in the Harbor because the rent went up on a year-round lease but she could not be open a full year.
Her life partner, Noel Arrington, was driving by the Union Street building and saw a “For Rent” sign. The place was owned by Bill Bailey and used as a storage facility for his rental business.
The shelving was already there, but Arrington, who Demers said is very active in the business, did all of the building needed to fit out the cafe which included the counter and later the service bar.
“The move from Pier 1 to here was huge,” she recalled. “The only thing going for me at first was the parking.” As word spread, Mama D’s became what Demers calls “a walker’s destination,” ideal for a stop when visitors would take a morning walk along Union Street.
At first, she explained, she unsure what direction to take with the cafe but she started listening to people and asking them what they wanted and what she should offer.
“The whole location was a new beginning and very different from downtown,” and she tested menu items and specials.
Demers’ talent for making her business unique is on view all around, helped along by friends who contributed items and took time to help decorate. “People just gave me things,” she said of the eclectic mix on display.
Artist Charles “Geez” Asbury gave her the birdhouse with a cardinal replica. Cecile Clifford, owner of The Gallery at My Way in Boothbay, decorates the cafe’s windows with items she has made.
Today, Mama D’s is a place where guests feel the fun, good wishes and friendship in the atmosphere and Demers remembers everyone who helped her.
“So many people along the way are part of this and have helped me out,” she said. That long list includes Bill Kautzman, “the jam man” who provided homemade jam, loyal and longtime customers and friends Pat and Bob McKee, Jane and Peter Gardner, Jeff and Sue Karns, and landlords Ken Fitch and Bill Lally, among many others.
Her magic touch was recognized this year by Restaurants-In, which named Mama D’s one of the Best Restaurants in the Boothbay Region, saying, “It’s a little gem that has almost everything one needs, like good service, delicious food, and a beautiful atmosphere.”
Asked what advice she would give someone starting out in the restaurant business, she answered, “You have to dig deep inside you to keep going. You have to be passionate about it. The whole idea comes from inside.”
Demers said her years in the business have taught her a lot of patience and to listen to people. “You have to treat people with respect,” she added.
She shared an exchange with visitors that happens occasionally as she moves around the tables.
“They’ll ask me ‘Are you Mama D?’ I ask them ‘Are you happy? Well then, yes, I am.”