Searsport's downtown coffee shop trades up, settles down

Coastal Cafe owners see new location as an opportunity and an arrival
By Ethan Andrews | Oct 11, 2018
Coastal Cafe owners Celine and Patrick Kelley recently moved their business one door west to a larger space that formerly was home to The Brick House restaurant.

Searsport — After nearly five years in a leased space, Coastal Cafe and Bakery, the main drag coffee shop with the wind-up puffin logo, has landed a permanent home.

For owners Patrick and Celine Kelley, whose itinerant youth included living aboard boats, running a beachfront business in Mexico and cooking for high-end restaurants across the Western U.S., moving one door down is the beginning of a new chapter that's about staying put and settling down.

Patrick Kelley said the three-story brick building at 23 Main St. came on the market at just the right time. Coastal Cafe needed more space, and the owner, a good friend, needed to get out from under it.

The upper two floors hadn't been legally occupied since Prohibition, but the previous owner had replaced the roof and repointed the exterior bricks. This allowed the Kelleys to focus on renovating the ground floor, which last was home to The Brick House restaurant.

The larger kitchen and ventilation system in the new space meant they could expand the menu. While still a work in progress, new offerings include a number of vegetarian and healthier options, Patrick said, alongside more traditional fare, all modestly priced.

The long bar from The Brick House is gone, replaced by a shorter counter, built by Patrick. The dining room, which was renovated extensively over the last six months, seats 53, compared to 34 at the old location.

For the Kelleys, owning the building put an end to the uncertainty of working out of a leased space.

The couple, both in their 30s, spent much of their lives bouncing from place to place. Patrick started cooking when he was 15. He worked an Alaskan longliner for a season, cooking for 26 fisherman, and cooked at upscale restaurants in Seattle, and later several Southwestern states, where he became versed in a range of international cuisines.

Celine Kelley grew up on a sailboat, living in the marinas up and down the West Coast. She and Patrick met in 2009 and moved to Mexico, where they opened a surf hostel. After two years on the beach, violence in the area sent them packing for Seattle. But the culture shock of being in a city again was too much, Patrick said, and after visiting his parents in Maine, they decided to stay.

When they bought Coastal Cafe in 2014, they were living off the grid in Appleton. The cafe had seen several owners come and go, but Patrick said he saw a niche market without any direct competition, and he could think of ways that it could be done better. After a grinding first few months, they moved to Searsport to be closer to the business.

Four years later, the business appears to have hit its stride. Patrick said the success came from making good food with fresh ingredients, having an appealing image and casting a wide geographic net.

"For us it's about drawing people to Searsport and not relying on people who are here," he said.

Celine's childhood friend Braden Duncan, now a successful designer in Seattle, made the logo, a puffin with an old-fashioned clock key sticking out of its back. They had wanted something that conjured the coast, Celine said, but otherwise there wasn't a deeper meaning to the wind-up bird.

"There's a whole rationalization we've come up with for it after the fact," she said. "But really, my best friend designed it and we think it's adorable."

The strategy seems to be working. Patrick said Coastal Cafe did more business in August than during the entire year before he and Celine took it over from the previous owner. Today the business has 10 full-time employees.

The Kelleys worked side-by-side for the first five years of the business, but Patrick said Celine has been moving to a more behind-the-scenes role and will probably bow out at some point to pursue her own interests.

"This was my dream," he said. "She supported me a million times over. It's time for her to figure out hers."

In a few years, Kelley said he'd like to renovate the second floor as a lounge, with an entrance in the rear of the building — a nod to its rumored past as a speakeasy. Stories of other uses have come to light since they bought the building in April.

"I've got 90-year-olds coming in telling me about it being a brothel in the 1950s," he said.

A section of hardwood believed to have been a dance floor is still there, giving way to exposed floor joists. The hallway at the top of the stairs is tattooed with pencil graffiti dating to the early 20th century. Despite the historical notes, very little can be reused, and Kelley said he expects to gut the spaces before any renovations.

The third floor could eventually become a daycare space for workers, he said, noting that staffing the cafe has been challenging, and onsite childcare could be helpful to parents working at the cafe.

The cafe will continue to be open year-round and Patrick said he hopes to serve dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Coastal Cafe and Bakery is located at 23 E. Main St., Searsport. For more information, call 548-4156 or visit searsportcafe.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Faith L Garrold | Oct 11, 2018 09:18

We are so happy to see this new/old business get the recognition they have earned! Watching  this couple succeed in Searsport has been a great pleasure. Congratulations to them, and to the RJ for sharing their story! The food is the best in the county.



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