BINGHAM — An entrepreneur who bought an old mill months ago recently took over a local restaurant, hoping to bring more business to the town.
Thompson’s Restaurant, which has been around since 1929, was purchased in December by Jay Strickland, who has handed the management of the spot over to his daughter Amber, a culinary-trained manager who worked in Portland restaurants before moving back to her hometown.
People in the town are saying they like the changes at the restaurant. They say the transformation has taken place over the last two years since the previous owners, Parker and Shelly Stevens, bought and remodeled it in May 2011.
“Sometimes it takes people to jump in. I never wanted to run a restaurant, but someone needed to get it started,” Stevens said.
The Stricklands officially took over Jan. 1, said Amber Strickland, who manages the restaurant and oversees its seven employees — a baker, two cooks, one preparation cook and three waitresses.
“This has been my dad’s hope and dream for a long time. It was a good reason for me to move back,” she said.
In November, Jay Strickland, 59, bought the Quimby Mill from the town with plans to renovate the building and open a sandblasting and equipment repair business. Then in December, he took over Thompson’s, one of only two places to eat in town.
He said he’s happy to have his daughter back in Bingham and that they plan to expand the restaurant from 45 seats to 75 by renovating a second, unused dining room.
“Our number one goal is to put out a good meal that people will talk about. We want a good reason for people to come to Bingham,” he said.
Amber Strickland, 31, graduated from Upper Kennebec Valley High School in 1999 and from the culinary arts program at Southern Maine Community College in 2001. She also has a bachelor’s degree in health fitness from the University of Southern Maine, where she graduated in 2007.
She has managed and worked in restaurants including the Hilton Garden Inn and the Marriott Hotel in Portland.
She said that since taking over the restaurant some things have stayed the same, such as the homemade doughnuts and pea soup, while some things will change. She wants to introduce pizza to the menu and has added specials such as prime rib and seafood dishes on Friday and Saturday nights.
At lunch on a recent weekday afternoon, Sam and Sandy Gynan, of Greenville, were eating sandwiches and drinking Coke. Sam, 76, had a steak-and-cheese sub while Sandy, 74, was having ham and cheese on homemade bread.
The Gynans said they have been coming to Thompson’s for about 30 years because it is on their way to a camp they have in Mayfield. Sam said he likes the fast service, cleanliness and the tin ceiling in the old restaurant.
“In the fall they also have a lobster roll, which is excellent and comes with a lot of lobster,” said Sam.
At a nearby table sat Greg and Anita Andre, owners of The Bingham Motor Inn, a 20-room inn that is the town’s only motel. The Andres said they have relied on Thompson’s for years as a place to send motel guests.
“Our reputation is on the line when people ask where there is to eat, and it’s always about the second or third question guests ask,” said Anita Andre, 65. They keep the menu in the rooms, she said.
On Wednesday the Andres were eating at Thompson’s for the fourth time in a week. “We were totally full with smowmobilers last weekend and brought a group of 10 here. Between the service, the food and the atmosphere, I think everyone was happy. It’s a place I can truthfully recommend,” said Greg Andre, 65.
The Andres said the restaurant went through some hard times, but that things changed when it was bought by the Stevenses, who live in Moscow and owned the restaurant for about a year and a half before selling it to Jay Strickland.
Parker Stevens, 44, has his own electrical business. He said he bought the restaurant with the intention of cleaning it up and then selling it.
“My goal wasn’t to keep this; it was just to get it up and running and put it up for sale,” he said. He bought the restaurant in May 2011 and closed it for four months for renovations that he did himself.
Stevens said the restaurant needed a lot of updating, so he remodeled the bathroom, put in new floors, repainted the walls and bought new kitchen equipment.
He contacted the Old Canada Road Historical Society, the local historical organization, and it agreed to lend the restaurant a series of old photographs and artifacts that now make up the decor.
“I’m into looking at things that are from eras gone by. I think they give the place a woodsy, rustic atmosphere,” he said.
Stevens said that while he enjoyed the restaurant, he had to work a lot of hours and he thinks Amber Strickland will be able to do a better job since she has professional training in the restaurant industry.
“She’s been to school and done this stuff. We’re lucky to have Jay invest in this town and help the community. He’s put dozens of people to work,” said Stevens. “I think we both want to bring the town back to what it used to be.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368