Cowbell restaurant owners Jimmy Albert, left, and Alex Markakis at their new location at Rock Row in Westbrook. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Before 2016, Alex Markakis was gung-ho on pursuing a career in professional baseball. But a proposition from a local restaurateur threw a curveball at those plans, and the pair have since opened seven restaurants and bars, mostly in southern Maine, the latest with a concept that speaks to his past pursuits.

The gleaming new Cowbell restaurant, which opened at the Rock Row complex in Westbrook in late April, sets itself apart from other locations in the mini-chain of burger bar and grill restaurants that Markakis has launched with his partner, Jimmy Albert.

The Cowbells in Biddeford, Scarborough and previously Lewiston tout the 25 specialty burgers and 25 craft beers on their menus. But the Rock Row location – positioned as an upscale sports bar, a new direction for Cowbell – also boasts 25 televisions, including a 12-foot by 10-foot video wall composed of nine smaller screens.

The nearly 5,000-square-foot restaurant with 22-foot ceilings and sparkling red flooring can seat about 200 people, and has three separate bar areas inside, including a swanky private bar made of white sanded resin, illuminated from within, where patrons can keep their own dedicated “liquor lockers.” Overhead, a 30-foot digital ticker tape shows the latest sports scores, headlines and betting odds for upcoming games, while a sweeping staircase decoratively papered with faux-cowhide leads to a mezzanine level with its own bar, a pool table and leather sofas.

Cowbell in Rock Row features three bars, including a mezzanine level for fan clubs, fantasy drafts and functions. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The price tag for the project is another distinguishing factor. Markakis and Albert spent a little over $2 million to open the Rock Row Cowbell, about four times as much as the other locations cost to launch.

“This is definitely our highest-end property, with everything from the silverware to the televisions,” said Markakis, 31. “This is what my partner and I envisioned as the next generation of Cowbell, more of a city vibe. I’ve had so many people come in and say it feels like I’m in New York City or Boston.”



Markakis is a Massachusetts native who grew up in the North Shore communities of Lynn and Lynnfield before attending St. Joseph’s College in Standish from 2011 to 2014.

“He’s one of those guys you just knew was going to be real successful,” said Will Sanborn, Markakis’ baseball coach while he was at St. Joseph’s. “He was always a kid who had a lot of maturity and a good work ethic, and was all about being a good teammate. He’s a hustler, and that really translates to the business field.”

In 2015, while Markakis was working as general manager of the Old Orchard Beach Surge pro baseball team, he met Albert, a seasoned bar owner and restaurateur who operated Jimmy the Greek’s in Old Orchard Beach. About a year into their friendship, Albert, 58, pitched Markakis his idea for partnering to open the first Cowbell in Biddeford.

“I discovered he was very savvy business wise, in spite of his age,” Albert recalled. “He was just 24, but he related very well to people older than him.”

Albert explained to Markakis that Cowbell was a meat-driven concept that would distinguish itself by offering a large variety of burgers, from wagyu and grass-fed beef patties to exotic burgers made from goat, alpaca and duck offered as rotating specials. The name of the restaurant was inspired by the legendary Saturday Night Live skit where guest host Christopher Walken pleads repeatedly for “more cowbell,” which Albert figured would give the new operation some pop culture synergy and cred.


Markakis saw the same potential for success that Albert did, and by 2016, the pair had opened Cowbell Burger Bar on Main Street in Biddeford.

“We caught the tip of Biddeford’s gentrification,” Markakis said. “It was all about timing. We got there at the right time, right before Biddeford started blowing up.”

“What’s awesome about Cowbell is a lot of it is familiar, but it was kind of the first place to have a little twist on the familiar,” said Delilah Poupore, executive director of Heart of Biddeford. “You’re having ghost peppers on your burger: familiar but adventurous.”

Poupore added that Markakis and Albert have been good civic partners over the years, helping sponsor charity events and fundraisers.

“Alex has adopted Maine as his home, and really baked himself into the communities here,” agreed Michael Cianchette, the Portland-based owner of harness racing specialists First Track Investments, who befriended Markakis in part because of their common interests in hospitality and entertainment.

“Being in Maine for the past eight years, there are a lot more family-oriented, tight-knit communities than I’m used to in Massachusetts, and you really have to win over the hometown crowds,” Markakis said. “We take building those relationships very seriously.”



In the early stages of his career as a restaurateur, Markakis still felt pulled in other directions. He’d long wanted to be a pro athlete or work in professional baseball, but recognized that his potential there was limited. Moreover, his own accomplishments as a young ball player tended to be overshadowed by those of his cousin, Nick Markakis, a former major leaguer with the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves.

“One of my biggest motivations was giving myself my own identity,” he said. “I didn’t want to just be seen as Nick Markakis’ cousin anymore.”

Meanwhile, his mother, noting the many lawyers and judges in their family, was urging Markakis to go to law school.

“My constant response to her was, ‘The experience I get working with Jimmy every single day is the best possible school system I could go to. I learn more through my experience with mentors like Jimmy than I would going to Harvard graduate school,'” Markakis said.

By 2019, Markakis and Albert had capitalized on the new energy in Biddeford and opened The Martini Bar and then Five Dollar Finn’s – adjacent watering holes directly across Main Street from Cowbell.


The original Cowbell Burger Bar on Main Street in Biddeford, shown in March. Christopher Wheelock/Sun Journal

“So it was very easy to say, go wait across the street, we’ll page you when your table is ready,” Markakis said. “We attempted to make more foot traffic in downtown Biddeford, and we succeeded. Biddeford is a real destination spot now. We wanted to set that standard and make that statement for all the future places that would open there.”

“Definitely more people come downtown just because they really feel comfortable there and they know they’re going to have a good time at any one of their three places,” Poupore said.

Markakis and Albert, who operate today as Two Greeks Ventures, also faced their share of challenges in the last seven years. When they first opened their Lewiston Cowbell in 2019 on one-way Lisbon Street, wait times for a table sometimes pushed two hours.

But the location didn’t have convenient parking, a problem exacerbated by the town’s winter parking ban and snow removal schedule. With the pandemic, sales grew sluggish and the pair opted to close the Lewiston Cowbell a few months ago, though Markakis said he picked up some valuable lessons from the experience.

“I learned about management, dealing with people, market analysis. We also saw in hindsight that being on a one-way street in Lewiston worked against us,” Markakis said.

The partners had also opened a Cowbell in Scarborough in 2020. While the Biddeford Cowbell has more of an exposed-brick, barroom vibe that attracts a younger demographic, the Scarborough venue is more family oriented, emphasizing the restaurant more than the bar.


“Alex and his partner do things that are maybe a little different, maybe a little more forward thinking, and they drive opportunities to create gathering places,” said Cianchette.

A BBQ Bacon burger and Bacon and Cheddar grass-fed burger at Cowbell restaurant in Westbrook. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


The vision that Markakis and Albert had for their newest Cowbell fell right in line with what the Rock Row developers had in mind. And although a couple prominent sports bars in downtown Portland closed in recent years, all those involved are confident their concept will work in Westbrook.

“We saw the need for a sports bar at this level,” said Joshua Levy, principal at Waterstone Properties Group, who expects their Rock Row complex will host as many as 15 restaurants along with a 550-seat food hall in about three years. “They’ve really created an enhanced experience, the way they laid it out, the thought that went into every detail.

“They stepped it up to the next level when they did this, and there’s more to come,” Levy added, noting that Cowbell plans to add a 150-seat beer garden area across the road from the restaurant.

The management system at Cowbell is tiered. The kitchen and front-of-house managers focus on daily operational details, allowing Markakis and Albert some creative freedom at the top.


“We want to focus more on the expansion of the business and the brand, and not so much the operations day to day,” Markakis said. “It wasn’t our plan at first to open places so fast. But the opportunities we found were too good to pass up. It kind of fell into our lap in a lot of cases.”

The young restaurateur’s background as a highly competitive athlete comes through in his intense drive. He said he and Albert regularly get pitched with restaurant ventures by folks looking to work with a winning team.

“We hear so many opportunities on a weekly basis. We get approached all the time about different and unique concepts,” said Markakis, who feels the Rock Row iteration of Cowbell as a high-end sports bar has the potential to go nationwide.

“It allows us to go into other states,” Markakis said. “It’s more conducive to a lot of different markets. I’m bringing my partner with me, but I’m taking this concept to the moon.”

“Alex is beyond his years,” said Albert. “Whether I’m a big brother or a father figure, I don’t know. I’ve taken him under my wing. And seven years into the relationship, he’s really come into his own. He’s capable of a lot of things, and he’s got time on his side.”

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