SKOWHEGAN — One year after a serious injury ended his career as a firefighter, Joe Almand has found a new way to serve his community — by opening a cafe downtown.

Almand, 42, held a soft opening this week for his new business, Joe’s Flat Iron Cafe, ahead of the cafe’s official opening Monday. The opening will help kick off Skowhegan’s weeklong River Fest celebration.

Almand is leasing part of the building’s downstairs space (which was once the office supply store The Paper Klip) from Patric Moore, business relations manager for the nonprofit group Main Street Skowhegan. The building’s upper floor is home to Main Street Skowhegan and adjoining the cafe’s downstairs space is the organization’s free outdoor gear library.

Almand has worn several hats in town. When he was a firefighter he also operated a carpentry business part-time and served as a board member for Main Street Skowhegan. The organization often would ask him to help with odd jobs on account of his handiness.

He hopes the cafe, located at 65 Water St., offers something the downtown is short of at the moment: a communal area and meeting space where people can come together in comfort to enjoy a drink or a meal, chat or get some work done. It will serve food that includes pastries supplied by The Bankery & Skowhegan Fleuriste, which is nearby at 87 Water St.

Almand moved to the area in 2005 with his family. His wife, Christine Almand, is the town manager of Skowhegan. He said that while the town has a vibrant online community (with several spirited Facebook groups), places to socialize can be hard to find here. Almand hopes the cafe will bring people back together in person as Skowhegan undergoes a historic revitalization effort, which officials anticipate will boost traffic downtown in the coming years.


At this week’s soft opening, around 50 to 60 of Almand’s friends and family, as well as any curious passersby, stopped in to sample the cafe’s offerings and celebrate the personal triumph its opening represents for Almand. Exactly a year ago this week, Almand was involved in a serious accident that ended his career as a Skowhegan firefighter.

He was tasked with helping to retrieve a drone that became stuck in a tree as it was being used by Main Street Skowhegan along the Kennebec River Gorge downtown to film a promotional video for the town. Almand was along the river’s edge when he had a misstep.

“I took a step and that’s all I remember,” he said.

He fell 25 feet and was “screaming in pain.” Fellow firefighters came to his aid and he was transported by LifeFlight helicopter to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he learned he had broken both his wrists and three ribs and punctured a lung, among other injuries. By the end of his 12-day stay at the hospital, Almand said he was told by a neurologist that he couldn’t safely return to firefighting.

Jane Calder, from left, her husband, Vernon Homer, and Margaret Almand chat Wednesday during a soft opening for Joe’s Flat Iron Cafe at 65 Water St. in downtown Skowhegan. Almand is the mother of the cafe’s owner, Joe Almand. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

About a month after the accident, while brainstorming uses for his building at 65 Water St., Patric Moore jokingly floated the idea of Almand opening a coffee shop in the space. Almand had only “dabbled” in making his own coffee at home, but said his days in the hospital gave him time to reflect on his trajectory. He wanted to slow down and enjoy life. The opportunity felt like a sign. He surprised Moore by taking him up on the proposal. By October, Almand was using his carpentry skills to gut and restore the old office supply store, and transform it into a new business.

Almand reflected on how meaningful it was to have people beside him who had helped him through the past year, and to see that support pay off. Friends, family and many firefighters, too, gathered at the cafe Wednesday, including the person who was the first to rappel down the gorge to reach Almand, and the person who accompanied him in the helicopter on the way to Maine Medical, he said.

“Today is my re-birthday,” he said. “All this hard work and anticipation is paying off.”

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