GARDINER — Amanda Vasvary knew exactly what she wanted when she walked into the new cafe at the intersection of Bridge and Water streets.

Smoked salmon paninis.

“You don’t see capers on a menu very often,” she said. “So I’m very excited about that.”

Vasvary, a purchasing agent who lives in Gardiner, said she is happy to see another cafe move into the corner building after A1 to Go Community Market & Cafe closed its doors there in July.

“It’s nice to have a new place in town offering a different selection to draw more people downtown,” Vasvary said as she waited for her order. “The place looks bigger, more functional. And it has a warmer feeling.”

The new owners are a husband and wife team, Rob Lash, a sculptor, and Amy Rees. The cafe officially opened Monday.

The opening comes as city officials have redoubled their focus on economic development downtown and at the city’s business park.

Nate Rudy, Gardiner’s director of economic and community development, said the city’s restaurants, cafes and bakeries bring excitement, energy and diversity that helps draw visitors.

“Many of them are working with local food producers to bring high quality, Maine-grown foods and products to our plates,” Rudy said. “This provides a direct benefit to Gardiner residents, local farmers and to other businesses in the community.”

Rees said she and her husband moved to Gardiner in 2005 and purchased the old Central Street School building, which they made into their home and studio.

She said they fell in love with Gardiner because of the downtown buildings, which she said are beautiful, and the warm, welcoming feeling they received from residents.

“We have been very involved in the community for the past six years, and when we found out that the A1 To Go cafe was closing, we felt moved to step in,” Rees said.

“We’ve seen too many empty buildings in our beautiful downtown,” she said. “This is a fantastic location, and a great space.

Roger Beck, who owned A1 to Go Community Market & Cafe, said he held on as long as he could but the poor economy got to be too much.

Lash said he has high hopes for the business, and doesn’t see a stumbling economy as a factor in its success.

He said people will come to his cafe because of the unique offerings.

Lash invested in an Italian espresso maker and coffee bar and will serve breakfast and lunch using local ingredients. They also have a large retail selection of wine from around the world and craft beer.

“We’re offering a delicious yet healthy menu with local sources when we can,” Lash said as he prepared for the lunch hour with his kitchen manager, Lisa Vigue.

“I think the business is going to be a big help to the downtown area. This is the most important corner and it was sad to see the other cafe close. People like to see a nice, warm, welcoming cafe presence here.”

Rees said they want their cafe to become a destination.

“We have 19,000 cars drive by here every day,” Rees said. “If we can get just 1 percent of them to stop, we’ll do just fine.”

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

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