Vintage typewriters, Civil War relics, and sterling silver lockets make the Montsweag Flea Market a roadside stop for thousands of visitors each summer. This season, the flea market has a new food stand, Maritza’s Place, where Daisey Cunningham and Alex Echevarria, of Wiscasset, serve homemade empanadas and sofrito seasoned rice.
The engaged couple is in the business of Puerto Rican food. When Echevarria’s Puerto Rican mother, Maritza, died two years ago, they fulfilled her wish to own a Puerto Rican food shack.
Cunningham and Echevarria discovered the space available for rent at Montsweag Flea Market, just over the Wiscasset town line in Woolwich, in the beginning of May. Within two weeks, they had opened Maritza’s Place.
Maritza’s Place serves a variety of Puerto Rican dishes, including daily empanada specials.
“The base to Maritza’s cooking was always the sofrito, a special spice made from cilantro, culantro, cubanelle peppers, and garlic,” Echevarria said. “We can only find it at a tiny bodega in Portland.”
Maritza would cook without any recipes or measurements. “It’s still a learning process for us to recreate Maritza’s recipes,” Cunningham said. “Her cooking would always be just a pinch of this and a dash of that.”
The couple also serves meals one might expect to find at an American food stand, including hamburgers and grilled cheese. In keeping with Maritza’s homemade cooking, the partners hand-season the meat and opt for cage-free eggs.
The stand carries Old Time Donuts, from the Damariscotta shop, and prepares artisan breakfast sandwiches with bread from Creamed Baking Co. in Wiscasset.
“Us small business owners are stronger working together,” Cunningham said.
She also plans to sell her homemade elderberry products at Maritza’s once she gets a dual license through the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry.
A native of Pittsfield, Cunningham moved to Wiscasset in 2009 and met Echevarria, who had just completed his training in the U.S. Navy.
Cunningham worked at Huber’s Market in Wiscasset for many years and sold her elderberry products in natural food stores in Bangor and on Cape Cod.
“I just became tired of working for other businesses,” she said. “I was ready to run my own.”
With its brightly colored menus and pineapple paper flags hanging from the windows, Maritza’s Place stands alone at the flea market.
“We chose the colors to make people smile. And Maritza was always smiling in the kitchen,” Cunningham said. The partners want the stand to embody the essence of Puerto Rico.
On Wednesday and weekend mornings, the partners start cooking by 5 a.m. and stay open until the grounds are empty. Cunningham expects Maritza’s Place to attract business from vendors, who will no longer need to leave their tables unmanned for breakfast and lunch.
With a rainy start to their season in June, the couple expects crowds to pick up in July and August. They look forward to meeting characters and taking advice from longtime vendors – in a type of place that exists for people of vastly different tastes and interests.
To enjoy authentic, homemade Puerto Rican food and traditional American food, visit Maritza’s Place at the Montsweag Flea Market, 6 Hunnewell Lane, Woolwich. The flea market is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Friday-Sunday.