Sourcing Regionally and Inspiring Locally

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Working with local purveyors and serving neighborhood patrons ensures business success year-round.

By Stef Schwalb

Maine is celebrated for its picturesque surroundings and sensational seafood cuisine. York Harbor Inn in York Harbor, a certified Maine Green Lodging property, features regional sources at all three of their dining venues: 1637 Restaurant, Ship's Cellar Pub, and Tavern at Chapman Cottage. The culinary team also grows their own herbs and makes their own honey. We spoke to innkeeper Garry Dominguez about some of the purveyors the Inn works with and how catering to the needs of their local community has created a loyal following. 

Over the last few years, York Harbor Inn has fostered relationships with Pineland Farms Natural Meats located in New Gloucester, ME; Heart Song Farm in Gilmanton Iron Works, NH; as well as Taylor Lobster Company and Golden Harvest Produce, both in adjacent Kittery, ME. "Pineland is an excellent source for naturally raised and ground beef, and has been very helpful in making our burgers so popular in the Ship's Cellar Pub," Dominguez shares. "Heart Song specializes in Goat's Milk Cheese, which we use frequently in numerous recipes. We actually named a salad entree after them that included their goat cheese, and it became a local favorite. Taylor Lobster is our main seafood supplier and has had its roots in lobstering and seafood since 1954. Fresh fish is available for daily delivery. They source their lobsters locally and many of their fish offerings too. Golden Harvest is also right in our backyard, so to speak, and frequently has local produce available from both Maine and New Hampshire." 

According to Dominguez, Inn Chef Gerald Bonsey (CEC, AAC) searches out sources both near and far in an effort to keep only the best ingredients on the menus. Oftentimes, information about local foods sources is passed on within the small circle of culinarians in the area, as well as visits from the suppliers themselves, and tradeshows held in Portsmouth, N.H. and Boston. "Chef Gerry is his own local source for fresh honey from his beekeeping activities both at home and here on the Inn's property," Dominguez adds. "He currently maintains three hives here and more at his home in York, and utilizes the different seasonal flavored honey in many of our recipes and specials. This year he expects to have over 400 lbs. of honey from his bees, which he plans to jar and make available for purchase in our gift shop."

Loyal Following

Just as sweet as Chef Gerry’s honey is the guest feedback and loyalty York Harbor Inn has experienced over the years (from both visitors and locals alike); so much so, that it prompted the team to establish its Frequent Diners Club. "Since our original opening in 1980, we have always Services and Suppliers Chapman Lob Roll copytargeted our local community with all of the services we offer. We wanted to, and ultimately have become, a year-round community hub for our town and nearby townfolks' life events, whether it be engagements, weddings, anniversaries, family gatherings, etc.," Dominguez notes. "Our Frequent Diners Club was a natural extension of this philosophy and is also a nice way to say thanks to our most loyal patrons. I was having dinner at a local year-round restaurant down in Hampton and noticed their loyalty program on a table tent and thought it was a great idea." 

The Inn started its program late last year, and it is growing every week. There are currently over 500 participants, and they expect this number to double within four months. "It presents a nice savings to our members. They receive a gift certificate of $30 for every $300 spent in any of our restaurants," he explained. "Our system keeps track of each member's balance on an ongoing basis, and they can check their balance at anytime."

The menu items at the Inn include creative New American cuisine, classical favorites, and of course, fresh native New England seafood.One signature dish, according to Dominguez, is the Lobster Stuffed Breast of Chicken served with a Boursin cheese sauce. "We originally put this item on the menu back in the mid 1980s, and it quickly became a local hit. Since then, we rotate it on and off to keep things interesting and ever-changing, but whenever we take it off, we receive numerous comment cards requesting its return," he says. "In addition to that item, the runner up is most likely our Seafood Ravioli, which continues to lead our item counts under the dinner entree category. 

“Seafood Ravioli includes fresh Maine lobster, large sea scallops, and Gulf shrimp in a rich seafood broth with tomatoes, spinach, and finished with a Mornay sauce served over fresh spinach ricotta ravioli,” Dominguez continues. “On the more casual side, our Harborside Haddock Sandwich is the No. 1 leader. It is a fresh filet of haddock lightly crumbled and grilled, served with melted cheddar cheese and caper mayonnaise on a toasted bulky roll. This item is very popular day and night, and we attribute that to its simplicity, freshness, and native origin." 

Regarding one of the Inn's more creative items, Chef Gerry came up with a unique Italian-influenced item: Sausage Ragu. This dish is described as rich and savory and has a loyal following of local diners who protest strongly whenever it's rotated off the menu for a while.

Perfect for Every Season

Although some people might think of Maine as more of a Spring, Summer, or early Fall destination, the Inn seems to secure business in every season. Dominguez attributes this success to the ongoing culinary events, such as the Lobster Lovers Weekends, Wine Tasting Dinners, Holiday Packages, and the new Craft Beer Brewery Tour. "Though we stay somewhat busy during our off season, our busiest months are without a Services and Suppliers York Harbor Inn Entrance copydoubt June through October. These months are when our occupancy is at its highest. The remaining months of the year we see most of our business on weekends because we are so close to Boston (an hour away) and the greater NY/NJ Metropolitan area (just five hours), which enables folks to get away for the weekend over the long winter," Dominguez summarizes. "With this in mind, we try to create special events each off-season month to keep people interested and offer them something to do while waiting for the warm weather to return. We also work hard to make any holidays that fall within these slower times attractive and enticing." 

Dominguez thinks the Inn's food and lodging - and especially its rooms that feature fireplaces, spa tubs, and ocean views - are a good attraction for winter visitors. "We always have good live music in our Tavern and our Main Dining Room. Having become a hub for community activities, we rely heavily on our local dining crowd and business community who have come to be very loyal and supportive to all three of our restaurants and our banquet and meeting facilities," he adds. "We strive to attract conference and meeting business from afar and have been quite successful at this, often having overnight business groups in-house midweek, and these groups compliment our weekend business quite well."

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