Rob Whisenant on a deck overlooking Kennebec River on Friday at Bruno’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — A Neapolitan pizza restaurant is coming to Hallowell, headlining three major business changes to the city’s downtown.

Taking up residence in the former Joyce’s building at 192 Water St., Bruno’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria is planning to open in mid-May. Meanwhile, Maine Local Market is planning to open April 3 in the former location of Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe, and the former Boynton’s Market could be under new ownership soon.

Bruno’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria is expanding to Hallowell from its the flagship location in downtown Bath. Owner Robert Whisenant, 52, of Sabattus, said the expansion to Hallowell was borne after he boated up the Kennebec River and had dinner in the city.

“It was very similar to our current location and the vibe we want to give off,” he said of downtown Hallowell. “We like the older brick buildings with wood features, (and) an exceptionally gorgeous view and a large patio.”

The big feature of Bruno’s will be its pizza, which is made in a Neapolitan-style pizza oven. Whisenant, a property management business owner and real estate broker, used to host pizza parties using a commercial pizza oven. He eventually realized that the oven was being underutilized at his home, and moved into the Bruno’s at 128 Front St. in Bath.

The pizza oven is dome-shaped, giving even heat distribution throughout the surface of the oven, Whisenant said. He said the goal for Neapolitan-style pizza is to cook it quickly, in 90 seconds to three minutes, and to achieve a thin, crispy crust, with a soft, chewy interior.

“It will have some charring on there,” Whisenant said. “It sweetens the dough, and you can literally eat a whole pizza and not even know it.”

Bruno’s, which is not affiliated with the Portland tavern of the same name, will also offer burgers and other sandwiches, as well as some pasta dishes.

Whisenant said there will likely be a “dense” schedule of entertainment on the patio of the restaurant. He has plans to put in three gas fireplaces to block out wind on the patio.

Bruno’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria Friday in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The menu offerings may vary slightly between the Hallowell and Bath locations, Whisenant said, but the popular menu items will be available at both.

He said Hallowell pulls in visitors from a large surrounding area, and the restaurant is hoping to contribute to the city’s atmosphere.

“We’re excited about Hallowell and the pull and the attraction to (this) area,” Whisenant said. “We know the importance of that community to the larger area.”

Maine Local Market, operated by Monica Castellanos and Tom Janenda, plans to open April 3 in 136 Water St., the former location of Scrummy Afters. Castellanos said she and Janenda have background in politics and communications and are partners in a consulting business, though Janenda has worked in markets and restaurants.

Castellanos said the market will focus on “Maine grown, fresh produce and local meats that are humanely raised with no growth hormones or antibiotics.” The store will feature an onsite dining area called the “River Room,” which will also be available for rent.

“The River Room,” she said, “will be a beautiful place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or an evening beverage.”

Castellanos said the pair were looking  for new entrepreneurial opportunities for a few years, but she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. That diagnosis sparked a passion for healthy foods and led to the idea for the market.

“I spent over a year in treatment (with) chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and immunotherapy every three weeks,” Castellanos said. “Since my diagnosis and treatment we have become even more passionate about finding and eating healthy, local foods.”

She said the pair “immediately saw the potential” in the building, which is just feet from the Kennebec River. She and Janenda have been working on a kitchen in the building and improving handicap access.

“We can’t wait to welcome people to the market,” Castellanos said. “There is a lot of excitement and people stopping by to wish us well.”

This month, Aaron Austin of Lewiston appeared before the City Council to receive a victualer’s license to operate the business at 153 Water St. — formerly Boynton’s Market and now Ciccarelli’s Market, Deli & Gelato — under the name “1852 Market and Deli.” He said during the council meeting that 1852 is the year Hallowell accepted its charter.

Austin declined to comment for this report, saying he did not want to disrupt the business and had further licensing to undertake before taking it over.

In January, Ciccarelli’s owner Michelangelo Ciccarelli, who bought the lease to operate Boynton’s Market from Don and Ruth LaChance in October 2020, announced that the store was back up for sale.

“It just needs a businessman,” Ciccarelli said, adding that he was not the right person to run the business. “I think it’s got a great future. It just needs the right guy.”

Boynton’s Market had more than 80 years of history between two neighboring locations in Hallowell. It opened in 1936 one door south of the current location.

When asked if the two markets will compete in the city’s downtown, Castellanos said they are “complementary to the business community in Hallowell and greater Augusta.”

Mayor George Lapointe, who has made economic development a key point during his tenure, said the new changes coming in downtown are a “good thing.”

“People have talked for the better part of the year about empty storefronts downtown,” he said. “We clearly have three businesses (that) have enough confidence to open in downtown Hallowell.”

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