RANGELEY — Food is a family obsession for Mike Kupstas.

Kupstas, 59, co-owner of the Forks in the Air Mountain Bistro in Rangeley, has worked in the food industry since he landed his first job at McDonald’s at age 16. His wife and two adult children are foodies, as are their spouses. And every Sunday Mike and his brother Steve, his fellow Forks in the Air co-owner, hop on the phone to discuss the Sunday meals they are preparing for their families, bridging the 1,500-mile divide between Mike’s home in St. Louis, Missouri, and Steve’s in West Brookfield, Massachusetts.

So when Kupstas and his family saw an opportunity to open up a restaurant on Main Street in Rangeley they knew they had to take it. They had fallen for Rangeley decades earlier. Kupstas started coming to the area when he was 6 years old and raised his two children on the region’s lakes and mountains. When those children grew up, they brought their prospective spouses to Rangeley to ensure the family’s love affair with the region would continue.

“We had this vision that we could have chef-driven, very unique food with everything made from scratch that people would come for and respect even in a small tourist community like Rangeley,” Kupstas said.

Since the restaurant’s first year, Forks in the Air has been participating in Maine Restaurant Week presented by Maine Magazine. The Rangeley restaurant is the only one from Franklin County participating in the promotion, which runs March 1-12, with most hailing from southern and coastal Maine.

The week provides a notable boost for the restaurant, Kupstas said, which sees the most business in summer. That boost is even more welcome since the 2015 closure of the Saddleback ski resort and a relatively balmy winter season last year that discouraged many from making the trip to Rangeley.

Saddleback did not open again this season, but Kupstas said better snowfall has lured people back.

“This year with snow but no mountain we’ve actually been able to claw our way back to the volumes of two years ago,” Kupstas said. “We’re in a much better place than we were in the winter of 2016.”

For their fourth Maine Restaurant Week, Forks in the Air is offering a three-course meal for $25 with a mix of new specials and old favorites. Menu options include choices of mushroom barley soup or the Forks house salad to start, grilled beef or pork tenderloins or little neck clam fettuccine as well as one of the chef’s daily dessert offerings.

“Things like Maine’s Restaurant Week are just so perfect for us because it’s an opportunity for us to showcase really unique and different foods while everybody in the state is focused on eating out and enjoying,” Kupstas said. “We just think it’s a spectacular way to celebrate food, which is pretty much what we’re all about.”

The Kupstas’ opened Forks in the Air in July 2013 and unlike many local businesses committed to keeping the restaurant open year-round to provide stable employment for staff and reliable, fresh fare for residents, second homeowners and visitors. The restaurant boasts a rotating seasonal menu stocked with rustic comfort food like quail, duck or short ribs with modern twists. The short ribs, for instance, are accompanied by blue cheese mashed potatoes, roasted parsnips and carrots drizzled with a horseradish cream sauce and topped with a pile of crispy onions.

“Once it goes in the dining room it kind of turns heads,” head chef Payson Farrar said of the short ribs. “That’s one of the dishes that has been really popular.”

Farrar said when it comes time to change the menu, he checks in with local farmers to see what they’re growing. As a rule, Farrar and Kupstas said Forks in the Air tries to source their meats, seafood and produce locally, bringing in eggs, carrots and other vegetables from local farms and lobster and much of their fish from the Maine coast.

The one exception is the wine, which Kupstas said they pull from around the globe. Forks in the Air stocks nearly 80 different wines with about a quarter of those available to try by the glass. They also offer a variety of local and international beers and cocktails.

Kupstas said he and the staff have endeavored to create an intimate, family-like environment in the 64-seat restaurant with small plates designed for sharing and hearty entrees reminiscent of home-cooked meals. Even the name, Forks in the Air, recalls family dinners. The inspiration for the name came from a friend of Kupstas, who said when he was a child his Italian grandmother would shout the phrase before plopping a dizzying array of steaming pastas in front of her family.

“It speaks to food as celebration, as a social event,” Kupstas said. “It’s not this prim and proper occasion that you’re uncomfortable with. It’s about sharing life and breaking bread and sharing food.”

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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