By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

Telling Stories Through Local Ingredients: A Restaurant Manager and Chef on Taking Pride in Maine’s Flavors

  • By working with and celebrating local ingredients and vendors, food-centric businesses can tell a unique story, support their community and build a network in their region.
  • Figuring out your unique why will help you communicate with colleagues and secure buy-in from your team.
  • It’s never too early to be invited into a business’s story! Look for ways to welcome even the youngest customers into what you’re trying to build.

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, a handful of students from my alma mater Colby College had the opportunity to enjoy some pretty fantastic lodging: the 53 guest rooms of the Lockwood Hotel in Waterville, Maine.

While the pandemic may have delayed the schedule for the hotel’s opening — it’s now slated to open in Spring of 2022 — this change of plans allowed the Colby community to develop an even more special connection with the facility, which came into being, in part, thanks to the college’s commitment to the revitalization of Waterville.

“The idea here was really for the college to take a direct role in investing in downtown Waterville, seeking to revitalize what once was a bustling commercial district [and] getting it back to those glory days,” Jordan Rowan — the manager of Front & Main, the restaurant located in the Lockwood Hotel — says on Episode 142 of The PR Maven Podcast.

“The hotel and restaurant are kind of the capstone of these projects. We can really support the community as a whole and be part of what should be a great next chapter for Waterville.”

While the hotel is still a few months away from welcoming guests, Front & Main Restaurant has been open for business since March, inviting patrons to enjoy dinner seven nights a week and brunch on the weekends. I’ve been handling publicity for the restaurant, and it’s been such a treat to support this new business as they celebrate local food, business and hospitality.

Along with Front & Main’s Chef Jesse Souza, Jordan joined me on the podcast to talk more about opening the restaurant, plus the many ways it’s possible to build a network and tell a story through food and drink.

Telling Stories Through Local Ingredients: A Restaurant Manager and Chef on Taking Pride in Maine’s Flavors Welcoming guests around the table: Building a brand around local flavor

For the team at Front & Main, it’s not just about serving delicious food (although I can confirm that their food is definitely delicious). It’s about giving guests a real Maine experience and inviting them into our local taste and culture.

“We’re trying to stay true to our roots and show some respect to a lot of the great food traditions of the state,” Jesse says of Front & Main’s menu. “We have a lot of different people coming through. We want to showcase what we can do with these dishes that you grew up with in your own household.”

The team at Front & Main is certainly telling a regional story through their Maine-centric menu, but the brand and network they are building are embedded in so many other aspects of the growing business. Keep scrolling for more thoughts from Jordan and Jesse about how local food can serve as a jumping-off point for storytelling and community.

1. First, figure out the reason you do what you do

Jordan is a big fan of Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why,” which has informed much of his approach to opening the restaurant.

“We have this fabulous opportunity, opening a new property, a new restaurant and getting to start from scratch with our staff,” Jordan says. “There’s natural intuition to take care of the guests and make sure that their experience from start to finish is amazing.”

As part of Front & Main’s staff training process, Jordan spent a lot of time communicating with his team about their true why: sharing local ingredients with guests and celebrating Maine through food.

2. Shine the spotlight on local businesses

Jesse designed every aspect of Front & Main’s menu to heavily feature Maine’s signature, best loved ingredients.

From kiddie meals and main courses to cocktails and desserts, every one of the restaurant’s offerings is an homage to the region. Guests can sample Maine classics like red flannel hash, fresh brown bread made with local buckwheat flour, pork and beans and so much more.

The Front & Main team’s commitment to the community comes through in everything they do, and they look for every opportunity to stay connected to the area by supporting local business too.

“More than anything, we’re excited to celebrate local vendors, local farmers, creameries [and] fishmongers,” Jordan says. “There’s so much here to be proud of. It really permeates every corner of the restaurant.”

3. Get creative with your storytelling

Front & Main shows off its Maine pride and carries through the theme of local storytelling through its art and decor as well.

Thanks to a partnership with the Colby College Museum of Art, paintings, wood reliefs, photographs and handmade baskets — all by local artists! — are displayed throughout the space. Jordan and his colleagues even commissioned a custom framer from nearby to create special frames for the pieces, all constructed with locally-sourced wood.

“We’re really excited to showcase the fabulous art that’s in this area and be that stage for these artists to shine,” Jordan says.

4. You’re never too young to be part of the family!

While some restaurants might list a hot dog and a hamburger on their children’s menu and call it a day, Front & Main takes their youngest customers seriously… and wants to help them understand Maine’s assorted culinary delights.

Jesse built a kid’s menu that features items like mac and cheese with a Fox Family potato chip crust and ployes with berries and maple syrup.

“We wanted kids to have as much fun and feel as welcome as the adults,” the chef says. “We wanted to make them feel special when they come in.”

This is based on episode 142 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.