New owners of historic Captain Searsport Searsport house reopen closed restaurant

SEARSPORT, Maine — Inside the new Homeport Tavern last week was a blur of activity as owners prepared for opening night on Friday, June 17.

With vendors passing by and a dining room still under renovation, there was plenty to do. But the little grand piano was already in place and a pot of okra was simmering on the stove, which seemed to match the emphasis on hospitality and good food that owners Arnaud Lessard, Allison Lessard and Kip Dixon have in head for the restaurant.

Arnaud Lessard, Allison Lessard and Kip Dixon are the owners of The Homeport Tavern, part of the Homeport Inn on East Main Street in Searsport. They are preparing for a soft opening which they hope to have later this month. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“We really want to have fun here. We want to bring live music and great food,” said Arnaud Lessard, 45. “It will not be a seasonal restaurant. It is a commitment to our future and to this city.

The Homeport Tavern, part of the Homeport Inn on East Main Street, is one of many new restaurants to open in Searsport over the past year, a sign of a restaurant boom in the small coastal town. He joins other newcomers including Rio’s Spiked Cafe, Hey Sailor! and Ras Dal Falafel.

Although in the recent past the seaside community has been overshadowed by its neighbor to the south, Belfast, Searsport is now having a moment – and it’s happy to be a part of it, says Arnaud Lessard.

“I think we have a huge push for travel tourism in Maine, and I think Searsport is really booming,” he said. “A lot of great things are happening here.”

The Lessards, who are married, and Dixon have a long history in the hospitality industry. They met while working at the same restaurant in Newburyport, Massachusetts, over 20 years ago. Dixon, 53, from Mobile, Alabama, is a chef. Allison Lessard, 49, who grew up in Farmington, Maine, has a degree in interior design and a background in project management. Arnaud Lessaurd has worked in hotel management for 25 years and was recently part of a team that opened The Whitney Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel on Boston’s Beacon Hill.

But the work they do at Searsport, on a captain’s mansion built in 1865 by Captain John P. Nichols, is different. The trio purchased the inn and tavern in February, after searching for property on the coast of Maine. The Italianate building, with an elaborate cupola, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

The Homeport Inn was open seasonally, with the previous owners trying to sell it for several years. The tavern – formerly the Mermaid Pub – had been closed for seven years.

A sign reads
The Homeport Tavern, a new Searsport restaurant, will offer year-round fine dining in a former sea captain’s house dating back to 1865. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik/BDN

As the new owners dug deeper into the project, they found water damage and a general feeling of benign neglect that they needed to address. One thing that didn’t bother them was the ghosts that supposedly haunt the inn. Despite the time they spent redeveloping the building, Arnaud Lessard says he felt no spirit.

Long working days have followed and in the past 13 weeks they have only taken three days off.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Allison Lessard.

The results are worth it, they said.

“People say ‘it looks amazing’,” said Arnaud Lessard. “We are proud of all the work we have done. We recover floors that had four coats of paint and carpeted. We are just trying to bring back the beauty and charm of this building and hope it will be well received.

The Tavern is a cozy and welcoming space with a stone fireplace in the sitting area. The restaurant was originally built in the 1980s for a landlord who dreamed of opening an English-style pub, and the stonework, wall lights and inviting wooden bar all ring true to that dream.

The interior of a tavern with chairs and a fireplace.
The Homeport Tavern, a new Searsport restaurant, will offer year-round fine dining in a former sea captain’s house dating back to 1865. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik/BDN

“It’s a place where you can come and relax, escape and almost hide. It’s a refuge,” said Arnaud Lessard.

The separate dining room has a different appeal, with black painted walls and the aforementioned piano.

“The mood is black and brass and gold,” said Arnaud Lessard. “It really is simplicity in elegance.”

It’s a good backdrop for Dixon’s creations, which will incorporate both classic New England flavors and Louisiana Cajun-style favorites. There’s mouth-watering okra, a savory stew that serves as a satisfying postcard from its roots. But there will also be seasonal specialties like summer risotto and caprese burrata salad as well as sandwiches and burgers that will be on the menu every day. Other options will include bangers and mash and smoked ribs cut a la St. Louis, with most meats like bacon and pork belly cured and smoked on site.

Desserts can include specialties like bourbon praline bread pudding.

“I look forward to all the seafood here,” Dixon said. “I want to use as many local products as possible. I want to change it. I want to keep people surprised and excited.

He has been pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome he has found since moving to Maine in February.

The Homeport Tavern in Searsport. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“I love Maine so far. I’m completely in love with the hospitality here,” he said. “People are friendly. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

The Homeport Tavern dining room at 121 East Main St. in Searsport will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The bar will be open until 22:00 on these days. For more information, visit homeporthistoricinn.com or call 207-548-2259.

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