Pemaquid institution The Seagull Shop and restaurant opens for its 86th season this year under the full ownership of Brooke Cotter, who began working there as a waitress 13 years ago.
She spent the last five running the restaurant and shop for co-owners Tim and Betsey Norland, former customers who purchased the business in 2017 for Cotter to manage it. She became a part owner with the Norlands before purchasing the business in January.
Through the pandemic, the building burning to the ground, reconstructing and reopening in one year, and a battle with cancer, Cotter said her love for the business has kept her going.
“My dream was to actually own it by myself, and I finally made that happen with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears,” along with help from family and friends, she said.
Before she was hired, she applied to be a waitress for three years in a row without success until longtime former owner Paula Houghton hired her.
When Cotter learned the business was for sale, she said she would try to convince her customers to buy it with her. Eventually, the Norlands agreed, and she said it was part of the plan for her to eventually buy their share of the business.
The building burned to the ground in 2020 and reopened a year later to the day in a reconstructed building designed to look the same.
Though recovering from the fire has been a long process, Cotter said she is proud to look around the shop and see what she and her team have accomplished.
Her husband, Gabe Shadis, helped her with construction and interiors this winter, and she had time to organize the business with efficiency in mind.
Cotter combed yard sales and auctions to recreate details from the original shop. She plans to continue adding finishing touches to the new building that bring the character of the previous one to mind.
“Everything in this building, I put here myself,” she said. “I bought every spoon.”
She said she feels she has hit her stride, and business has doubled in the last five years.
The gift shop, restaurant, and ice cream window are ready for visitors, and Cotter hopes to spend more time with them this year now that she has help in the kitchen.
She said the people keep her going during this rush, both her customers and employees.
“It’s a really good feeling to know that you’re reaching people and they’re enjoying where they are, and that they’ll be back,” she said.
Cotter works with three generations of her family, and said she could not run the business without them. Her parents come up from their home in Florida, her sister flies in from Utah to work with her throughout the season. Her husband works part time and her two daughters, ages 17 and 14, serve and bus tables.
Many of her staff, even those not related to her, return every year.
“They go through the wringer, but they see it’s worth it,” she said.
She hopes to stay open through October this year and possibly include some weekend dinners in the winter, if she can find enough staff.
“It’s the people,” she said. “It’s the same people every year, and they’re amazing. They know your story and you know theirs and it’s just such a family.”
She got her start in the restaurant business working for her parents in Saint Croix and the Virgin Islands.
“I saw how happy it made people,” she said of that experience. “And they were happy, because they were making people happy. When you work in this kind of industry and you can make people happy with food or just companionship, by talking to them, it’s awesome.”
Cotter plans to keep the tradition alive in the coming seasons, and said she is excited for what’s ahead.
“I see great things in the future,” she said. “What they are yet, I don’t know, but they’re there.”
The Seagull Shop, located next to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, opens for the season on Friday, May 12.
The restaurant will be open 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Tuesday, and also serves dinner from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Monday.
The gift shop will follow the restaurant schedule but is open until 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.
For more information, go to seagullshop.com or find the business on Facebook.
(This post has been updated to accurately reflect the business’ hours).