Cook’s Lobster House, a landmark Harpswell seafood restaurant, has changed hands for just the second time in 60 years.

While the new owners plan to upgrade and expand aspects of the building and menu, they said many of the mainstays of the lobster house will remain familiar to locals and regular visitors to the Bailey Island restaurant overlooking historic Cribstone Bridge and Garrison Cove.

“We just want to make what’s there a little bit better,” said Jen Charboneau, a Lewiston native who closed on the restaurant with her husband, Nick, on June 30. “We will add some things, but it will be what you come to expect from a Maine seafood restaurant.”

The Charboneaus purchased Cook’s Lobster House out of bankruptcy for $1.25 million, acquiring the restaurant and surrounding real estate but not the adjoining Cook’s Wharf. The previous longtime owner, Curt Parent, had put the business on the market with an asking price of $1.79 million but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May. Parent then sought permission from the bankruptcy court to sell the business and land to pay back creditors. The new owners’ first move was to expand the name to “Cook’s Lobster & Ale House,” a shift Charboneau said reflects their plans for a larger pub area and a heightened focus on Maine’s thriving craft beer industry.

Taking over the business at the start of the peak tourism season, the couple plans to give the building and property a face-lift this year in addition to some changes to the menu and pricing. By next year’s summer season, the Charboneaus hope to have an expanded outdoor deck, a full bar and pub/lounge, and outdoor fire pits. Jen Charboneau, who spent years working in the hospitality/event planning business and whose father owns Dube Travel, said they also plan to convert the large dining room into a space capable of hosting parties, wedding receptions, corporate meetings or other events. They also plan to expand the restaurant’s offering of group lobster bakes.

“I think with the beauty of this place, there is so much potential,” she said. “You’re not going to find a nicer spot surrounded by water on three sides. And there is so much tradition.”

Opened in 1955, Cook’s Lobster House has become a landmark on Maine’s southern Midcoast. The restaurant hosts the annual Fourth of July fireworks – a tradition that continued this year – and is in a prime location next to the docks where Casco Bay Lines passengers embark and depart. But the restaurant has limited space for larger families or groups, has struggled financially and is perceived to have declined in quality in recent years.

John Doyon, who handled the real estate listing with Malone Commercial Brokers in Portland, said he fielded queries from potential buyers from Maine, throughout the Northeast and from as far away as Wyoming.

“It is going to a Maine native who appreciates what it is and appreciates the culture there,” Doyon said.

A graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Nick Charboneau owns and operates a restaurant called Mexicali Grill & Cantina in Williston, Vermont, while his wife has worked in hotels, event planning and conference management.

“We were settled there for a while but we wanted to move back to Maine,” she said Tuesday. “He had always told me that if you find me a restaurant there to buy, I’ll move.”

So she did – with help from family who sent the Cook’s Lobster House listing, almost as a joke. But the couple quickly began thinking seriously about the restaurant and, after months of “ups and downs” closed on the deal in June. Jen Charboneau was at the restaurant Tuesday while Nick was in Vermont working to sell the Williston restaurant and their home. The couple has two daughters, ages 8 and 10.

Although a Maine native, Charboneau acknowledged that the couple had some jitters about their new venture given the scope of the restaurant, its history and loyal clientele, as well as the profile it has in the local close-knit island community. Since arriving, the family has been bowled over by the local response as well as the assistance of restaurant staff as they learn their way around the community and the business, she said.

“We took ownership last Tuesday, and the outpouring of support from the wonderful people on Bailey Island has been so heart-warming,” she said.

Kevin Miller can be reached at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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