WATERVILLE — A couple who own a successful eatery and bar in downtown Portland plan to open a restaurant, bar, market and cafe-deli in the Colby College-owned Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons by the end of the year.

Verna’s All Day, a casual, classic American chop house, will offer steak and other entrees, as well as locally sourced food and classic cocktails in the restaurant part of the business. A range of prepared foods, convenience items, wine, local beer and other items will be featured in the small market and cafe-deli, where patrons will be encouraged to eat, socialize and study.

Owners Andrew and Briana Volk, who also own The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club on Market Street, joined Colby College on Monday in announcing the new venture, which is part of ongoing efforts by the college and city to revitalize the heart of Waterville and make it a dynamic food destination.

Verna’s will be sandwiched between the Chace Community Forum inside the north end of the 150 Main St. building and Camden National Bank at the south end. It will cover 4,000 square feet on the ground floor with an entrance off Main Street. The upper floors of the $25.5 million building, which opened in 2018, are home to about 200 Colby students, faculty and staff.

The Volks said Monday in an interview at the Commons that Verna’s will be a welcoming and warm space, just as was the home of Briana’s late grandmother, for whom the business is named. Briana was raised in a farming family in the small coastal town of Knappa, Oregon, where her grandparents lived across the street, she said. Her grandmother loved to entertain and create a sense of community.

Colby graduate Andrew Volk, left, and wife, Briana, plan to open Verna’s All Day restaurant at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons at 150 Main St. in downtown Waterville. The couple are shown at the property Monday.

“She was an incredibly lovely hostess,” Briana Volk, 37, said. “The spirit we wanted to capture in this space will reflect that. We want people to come in and feel automatically welcome.”

Andrew Volk, 36, is a 2005 Colby graduate who also grew up in a small town — Charlotte, Vermont. He majored in international studies, but after graduation wasn’t sure what he really wanted to sink his teeth into, so he moved to the West Coast and worked in restaurants. He did everything from busing tables to bartending and working as manager.

The couple met in Portland, Oregon, and in 2011 moved to Maine where, two years later, they opened the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club on Market Street, known for its Scandinavian small plates and exquisite cocktails. A little over a year ago, Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning, approached the Volks about the idea of opening a restaurant in Waterville, and they started having conversations about what that business might look like.

Andrew Volk recalled spending time in Waterville’s downtown when he was a Colby student from 2001 to 2005, watching movies at Railroad Square Cinema and patronizing restaurants downtown, as well as Big G’s and the former Bonnie’s Diner in Winslow. The more he and his wife talked about Clark’s idea, the more excited they became about the thought of  being part of the city’s renaissance.

“I’ve told people it’s a town that has always had great bones,” Andrew Volk said. “There’s always been cool stuff happening in Waterville, and to be a part of this change is really cool and really fun.”

Briana said there is “so much good agriculture” in central Maine, with its dairy and vegetable farms. The restaurant will reap the benefits of that and serve beer from local breweries.

“The opportunity to do something up here is really enticing, really exciting,” she said.

The full-service restaurant will take up about two-thirds of the now-vacant space, where lunch, dinners and weekend brunches will be featured. The market and deli will occupy the north end of the space. Large windows overlooking Main St. comprise the entire east wall of the building.

The Volks are working with an architect to iron out details of the layout, they said. They estimate they will employ 20 to 30 people full time.

“To be able to contribute to the community is incredibly important to us,” Briana Volk said.

The Volks, who have two small children, plan to maintain their home in Portland but likely also will get a place in this area so they can divide their time between the two cities, they said.

Andrew Volk said he chose well when he decided to attend Colby. He never imagined he would return to Waterville and own a restaurant here many years later.

“Colby just hit me,” he recalled. “I applied early decision and was accepted. It was my number one choice. There was something about the school and community here that really spoke to me.”

Standing in the large, vacant space that will become Verna’s, the Volks chatted about what will go where.

“We know how to make a great experience,” Andrew said. “This is a beautiful space.”

Clark, who joined the couple Monday at the Alfond Commons, recalled that the corner of Appleton and Main streets, where the building sits, was vacant three years ago, and the Volks restaurant will complete the vision of the building. Across the street, Colby renovated 173 Main St. which now houses offices on upper floors and Portland Pie Co. on the ground floor. Bixby & Co., a chocolate confections manufacturer based in Rockland, plans to open a retail shop and cafe this spring, also on the ground floor.

Colby College Vice President of Planning Brian Clark is shown inside what will become Verna’s All Day restaurant at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons in downtown Waterville on Monday. The new business is projected to open in late 2020, according to Clark. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Colby is working with Waterville Creates! to raise funds to build an $18-$20 million Paul J. Schupf Art Center, for art and film, downtown. Railroad Square Cinema will be housed in that building, as will the Paul J. Schupf Art Center and The Hub, a community gathering space. Colby also is building a $26 million hotel and restaurant, to be called “The Lockwood,” at the south end of Main Street. It is scheduled to open in the fall.

“This is about place-making,” Clark said. “This is about having an energetic, active Main Street.”

Monday evening, a reception was held at Waterville Creates! in the Hathaway Creative center to welcome the Volks, who were serving up their specialty cocktails — a hit with those who attended.

They included city and Colby officials, business owners and entrepreneurs, artists, educators and economic development specialists.

Colby President David Greene was mingling with the crowd. Asked to comment on the Volks’ plans, he said he is thrilled the couple will bring their expertise to the Alfond Commons.

“It’s so exciting to have that space so prominent on the street filled with great restaurateurs who want to be in Waterville, understand the essence of the city of Waterville and will create a restaurant that really speaks to all the people here,” Greene said. “I’m really excited about what they’re doing. They really get the essence of this city and what it’s all about — exactly the kind of people we want to support. I’m excited because they care about quality, they are all about Maine and they’ll create something that is exciting and a great destination place in Waterville.”

City Council Chairman Erik Thomas said one part of Verna’s will fill a niche that has not been filled — a deli.

“I think it’s going to be a great addition to downtown,” he said.

Thomas said that, when he goes downtown to eat, he does not always know exactly where he will go. The downtown has a variety of offerings and the more the merrier because that creates a food destination, he said.

Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate for Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby College, beamed when asked to comment on the latest upcoming addition to downtown.

“I’m really very happy to be part of this whole process over the past few years and over the next couple of years,” said Ureneck, who oversees construction of Colby projects downtown. “It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s energizing. It’s exciting when you can actually see a vision come to fruition.”

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