How’s this for brand leverage? Tourists still flock by the thousands to shop catalog giant L.L. Bean’s flagship retail store in Freeport, ME. Now Linda Bean, an experienced restaurant operator and entrepreneur deluxe, has opened Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen & Topside Tavern directly across the street from her grandfather’s iconic store.
The 70-year-old Bean, who has served on the board of the L.L. Bean Company for the past 44 years, possesses a strong entrepreneurial streak. She has become involved in a string of restaurant ventures since 2007, the majority bearing the name “Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll.” Service formats differ slightly from restaurant to restaurant, but most are strictly casual and operate seasonally in Maine. One exception: A Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Café in Delray Beach, FL, that operates year-round. Additionally, her Lobstermobile food truck transports signature items to fairs and festivals across a wide swath of Maine. The new place, far and away her biggest, brings her company’s restaurant count to nine.
Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen & Topside Tavern has 7,600 square feet of space spread over three floors. It’s located on the corner of Main and Bow Street in the very heart of Freeport. Retailers who thought they could cash in on the hordes of free-spending tourists who make the pilgrimage to L.L. Bean’s open-24-hours headquarters store previously controlled this spot. The most recent tenants have been Bath & Body Works and Zales Jewelry.
The menu positions the 240-seat restaurant this way: “In 2007 Linda began to form a group of companies to create more markets for Maine lobstering families. This restaurant is one way and is separate from L.L. Bean. Our aim is your food pleasure from authentic Maine dishes from Maine’s shore, streams and farms.”
The restaurant is locavore-friendly, but it doesn’t operate in the culinary stratosphere. The promise is that “Linda Bean shares her recipes and some favorites of her family and famous granddad, Leon L. Bean.”
Preparing those recipes is executive chef Andrew Omo, who has cooked at some the Maine’s most highly regarded restaurants. His job here is to put out no-frills Maine-centric dishes that showcase local products. The lineup includes such items as L.L. Bean’s Personal Recipe Baked Haddock ($16) and Linda Bean’s Lobster Leg’n Claw Mac & Cheese ($18). Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll comes in both the quarter-pound ($17) or “The Colossal” ($23) size.
Prices are moderate, but the abundance of seafood items should produce a check average in the $20 range. The least expensive item: A simple hamburger that goes for $6. The costliest: the Maine Lobster Complete Shore Dinner at $39.
Linda Bean won’t have much trouble sourcing lobster for her new restaurant. She’s a force in—and for—the Maine seafood industry. Her company ships live, wild-caught lobsters nationwide and supplies wholesale lobsters to many other ventures. Roughly 100 lobster boats offload their catch at one of her five buying wharves and a crew of 50 workers staffs her lobster processing plant in Rockland, ME.
Those same wharves are where the new restaurant’s most unusual menu item—kelp—gets offloaded. The restaurant’s Kelpiwraps and Kelpislaw (she has trademarked both terms) use sugar kelp grown from original spores on ocean ropes by Ocean Approved, a Portland, ME, enterprise. Bean says she became interested in this project because it gives lobstermen something to do in the weeks before lobster harvesting begins and brings in extra income. Kelp has a nutritional profile that puts other superfoods to shame, so keep your eye on this part of the venture.
We don’t know how well this restaurant will fare, since the tourist flow slows to a trickle when the rough Maine winter sets in. Given the Bean name, its pristine locally sourced ingredient lineup and a seemingly can’t-miss location, we’re guessing the seasonal business alone will keep the place afloat. Let’s hope it does; we’re eager to see what Linda Bean would come up with next.