New hands on deck boost Maine Black Bear
By Brian Sweeney
A longtime Arkville business is expanding its offerings thanks to the introduction of two new partners in the operation.
Maine Black Bear has been run by Bruce Beddoe for more than 27 years. The business traces its origins to Bruce traveling to Maine to pick up (Bruce lived in Maine and came here on the weekends with his truck to sell) fresh seafood and selling it from his truck along Route 28. A few years later, he officially opened a seafood market in a small building near the Dry Brook Bridge.
The natural progression of the business led Bruce to add a dining area in the back of the market. Now the Maine Black Bear is taking another step in its transition as local residents Allison Bennett and Sandy Valk are teaming up to manage restaurant operations.
Allison has extensive experience in the food service industry and is serving as the primary chef for the revamped Maine Black Bear. Sandy has been involved in catering for a number of years and her primary duties will be running the “front of the house.” She also assists with food preparation.
Sandy prides herself on being very detail-oriented and is already enjoying the challenges of running the restaurant.
“I feel that if I’m inviting people in here, I can guarantee it’s clean and we’ll offer good food,” Sandy noted.
Allison and Sandy became friends several years ago and have both been longtime patrons of Maine Black Bear. Together, they developed the idea of becoming partners in the business.
“For ages we’ve seen the potential - the fish is great,” Allison explained.
When they pitched the idea to the owner, Bruce was enthusiastic about the idea of being able to concentrate on running the retail fish market so that Allison and Sandy could take over the restaurant.
Allison’s career in the food business began when she was waiting tables in New York City and the kitchen staff of the restaurant where she worked walked out on a busy Saturday night. She jumped behind the stove and finished cooking for the evening, thus embarking upon her culinary career.
Learning on the job, Allison trained at Two Boots, a Cajun and Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village, The Boat House in Central Park and then went on to help open a new restaurant at the Vail Athletic Club in Colorado.
After earning a degree in French, Allison’s career evolved into a new career as a produce broker, including work for Manhattan’s largest specialty produce company, Baldor Specialty Foods.
While developing a sales route for the company in upstate New York, she started buying from local farms and back-hauling produce to sell in NYC. Her knowledge about local foods led to Allison working for the Watershed Agricultural Council in the Catskills as the Farm to Market manager. In this position, she developed a local branding campaign called Pure Catskills that assisted farmers in connecting with urban markets.
Allison has been a part-time resident of the area for a decade and moved here permanently four years ago. She currently teaches French part-time at SUNY Delhi, but is thrilled to be back in the restaurant business, her first love.
A Catskill Mountain native, Sandy has long been friends with Bruce. She, too, has enjoyed a varied career, but found her true calling working for Peggy Bellar's catering business, also in Arkville. Although Peggy eventually relocated out of the area, Sandy’s catering and organizational skills have been in demand from a number of former customers whom she has assisted with parties.
When she and Allison began discussing the possibility of teaming up to run the Maine Black Bear, the decision to get back into the restaurant business was an easy one.
For Sandy, an Arkville native, getting involved in this project “is like coming back home.” She noted that, “I always look for a place like this when I go to the beach. It’s funky and fun.”
Both she and Allison want to maintain the casual appeal of the Maine Black Bear, while building up the restaurant’s reputation for quality meals at reasonable prices.
The new partners began operating the restaurant about a month ago. Among their first tasks was a reorganization of the dining room and the kitchen.
With Allison and Sandy taking over in-house dining chores, Bruce is focusing his energies on the retail fish operation. He is continuing his Thursday runs to meet a supplier who trucks in seafood from Maine - and ensures fresh seafood at the Arkville store.
In the meantime, Allison and Sandy have many plans in the works for the restaurant. To start, they have spiffed up the indoor dining room, which has seating for approximately 25 guests, while keeping the casual charm of the place intact.
When warm weather arrives, they will open the back dining deck and offer unusual enticements such as the chance to engage in some volleyball on the lawn.
Sandy said they want to eventually add items like chowders and peel-and-eat shrimp for customers who prefer takeout. They also plan to work with local lodging facilities to help arrange for quick takeout meals. Utilizing locally produced foods to supplement the seafood offerings will also be a priority.
She pointed out that catering is also an endeavor in which the Maine Black Bear would like to become involved.
For now, though, Allison and Sandy are busy working to put their personal stamp on the Maine Black Bear's dining room. Because of the limited seating capacity, guests are encouraged to call ahead for reservations.
The fish counter is open from Thursday at 3 p.m. until sold out on Sunday. Dinners are served in the dining room on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to 9 p.m.
Patrons are invited to bring their own bottle to enjoy with their meal. For additional information, please call 845 586-4004 or visit www.catskillsfish.com.