In the state that calls itself Vacationland, where the very best lobsters are farmed, and the windswept seashores beckon, sits a rustic, sophisticated restaurant that exists to pamper and to serve world-weary travelers.
“We want everyone who enters … to feel like they are visiting our home,” says Margaret Duplessis, assistant GM of the Royal River Grill House of Yarmouth, Maine.
Rough-hewn wood beams, smooth granite counters, and waterside fire pits overlooking a peaceful harbor add to the ambience of the restaurant, which has been attracting customers in the touristy town, and growing its brand for 15 years.
On the cusp of opening its third restaurant, Duplessis takes a moment from her busy day to answer a few questions for Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand.
Q: How does the Royal River Grill House attract customers in Yarmouth?
The Royal River Grill House strives to provide each guest with the ultimate dining experience. Hitting all marks—great food & drink, outstanding service and an attractive ambiance —is what has attracted our loyal guests for the last 15 years. From the moment you walk in, hospitality is at the core of everything we do. We want everyone who enters our doors to feel like they are visiting our home.
Q: What has been the Grill House’s secret to its longevity?
First I want to give you a little bit more about our history. The building we’re currently in was formerly a sardine canning factory. It was a restaurant under a different name before our owner took it over 15 years ago. But it was really in the last five years things really started to take off.
This is when we saw the economy turn around and we hit a big boom.
To enhance the experience, we did a complete renovation three years ago with Nicola’s Home design, and two years ago we added a large, extensive deck, seating on the lawn, fire pits.
A big part of our success has been in not being complacent.
As managers, we’re given a lot of leeway to try new things. And we spend a lot of time listening to guests, and setting our egos aside. For example, you may think a particular dish is wonderful, but if it’s not selling, you need to put your ego aside and come up with another one.
Q: What are the key ingredients that make the restaurant a success?
Number one for a successful restaurant is guest satisfaction.
Our entire team, from the front-of-house to the back-of-house is advocating for our guests. We are all working towards the same goal and strive for excellence every day.
We have a core group of people who’ve been here a long time. Our general manager is Tony Merrill. He’s been with the company for 10 years and he started as a line cook. I’ve been here for a sixth season. And, a lot of core managers have been here four-plus years. Our Executive Chef is Matt Kenney, who started as a line cook, and worked his way up. I came in and started out as a hostess. Now I’m the assistant GM.
Part of our success is that core group of people, and our willingness to put egos aside and provide what the guests are asking for. We cater to regulars, tourists, or people who come in once a year.
Q: There are also challenges staffing a restaurant.
In recent years, our biggest challenge and one shared with many other restaurants across our state, is the shortage of employees. There just aren’t many skilled line cooks to fill the open positions and everyone is always hiring.
That’s really a challenge across the state. Early on, we offered healthcare to all our employees and paid vacations. We started that a long time ago, and I think it’s helped.
Another challenge is finding skilled line cooks, people who’ve gone to culinary school. In a tourist-driven area like this, it can be a challenge finding people at the height of the season.
Q: How did the Grill House discover its niche?
It was a niche that took time to grow, but with consistency over the last 15 years we have been able to provide diners in Southern Maine with a unique experience.
They know to expect our menu to have a strong focus on Prime cuts of meat. All grilled to perfection on our signature wood grill that imparts a unique flavor that’s true to the Royal River Grill House.
About eight or nine years ago, we added a wood-fired grill. It goes beyond protein, steaks, and grilled salmon. We cook many ingredients and vegetables on it, and the smoky wood-grilled flavor just adds.
Being right on the water in Maine, seafood also plays a large role in our menu development. We are fortunate to work closely with our vendors and farmers which enables us to share the bounties of our great state with our diners. We often let the quality and freshness of our dishes shine, rather than masking it with unnecessary components.
Q: I understand you’re expanding.
Yes, we are! We’re opening our third restaurant in South Portland. The concept will be about 75 percent Italian and 25 percent seafood. We opened a 2nd location four years ago in Freeport called Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro. It’s a very exciting time! — Royal River Grill House uses Boxerbrand Menu Covers in its table presentation. Thank you!