Along the banks of the Androscoggin River in Lewiston, Maine, where old brick mills once hummed, a new energy fills the air with a sense of possibility; of optimism.
Though the historic town with deep French-Canadian roots does not yet “sizzle” with a thriving restaurant scene like Portland, Maine or Concord, N.H., restaurant partners Jules Patry and Craig Tribuno, principals in Davinci’s Eatery, a 20-year icon in Lewiston, are positively stoked about the future.
“It’s been a tough slog to build Lewiston up,” says Jules, recent recipient of the Lewiston Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year award. “But, there’s so much opportunity here! For $100,000 an investor can get a great business property, which is a fraction of the investment in Portland or Concord.”
Lauded for taking a leadership role in the effort to revitalize and repurpose the historic Bates Mill Complex in downtown Lewiston, Jules has kept the brick oven humming in the kitchen of Davinci’s Eatery for decades.
“Families have been gathering here for a long time,” says Jule’s business partner Craig Tribuno. “In addition to our foot traffic, this has become the place to come to mark occasions—large groups gather for wedding dinners, anniversaries and wakes.”
Now the pair is hoping to light a match to spark interest in Lewiston as a destination for entrepreneurs looking for opportunities.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Success, Jules Patry and Craig Tribuno discuss the up and down of restaurant life in Lewiston, Maine.
Boxerbrand: Why is Lewiston a good bet for business?
Craig: While Lewiston isn’t oceanfront, the real estate along the Androscoggin River, where brick mills fell into disuse, is, we think, a great opportunity for people with the vision to see that these mills could anchor a revitalization that would put us on track to turn around. The way Sacco and Bitteford turned around, and also Concord, N.H.
Boxerbrand: There must be an authentic vibe to the archiceture that might not be found in new builds.
Jules: Inside DaVinci’s you’ll experience eclectic décor accented by the Mill’s original brickwork and wooden beams, as well as a collection of Vespa scooters and antique bicycles. Craig has a passion for scooters, the Vespa, and bicycles, so we’ve incorporated them into our decor to add to the charm.
And, our brick oven and exhibition kitchen heighten the feeling of warmth and charm to complement the dining experience
Boxerbrand: How did you guys get your start in the biz?
Jules: I got into the food-distribution business and bought a small company. I was unhappy in that role and looking for a venture and a good friend said, “You should open up a brick-oven restaurant in the Bates Mill!” And I thought, “Well, that’s a dumb idea.” That was a long time ago!
Craig: I grew up in New York in the pizza business. I moved to Maine in 1982, and in 2019 I retired from my day job in computers in the healthcare field. I saw this partnership as an exciting venture. The most important thing is that this restaurant is thriving; we’ve had a lot of fun and we’ve made a lot of spaghetti!
Boxerbrand: Tell me about the food.
Craig: Skillet prep of dishes like chicken parm and veal saltimbocca are two bedrock main courses here. Our penne with cream sauce and shrimp scampi are also best sellers. We serve original Italian American cuisine of very fresh ingredients plated with beauty.
Boxerbrand: What other attributes enhance the experience of dining in a converted Lewiston mill?
Jules: Our tables are big and nicely spread out. And our seating is generous. It’s a very easy and comfortable place to spend a couple hours. We don’t pressure our servers to try to optimize the check, and we encourage diners to stay and enjoy themselves.
We don’t have a 99-cent beer night with 200 half-drunk people wandering around the restaurant. Instead, we continue to attract professionals, young people, and families. And it’s working! We continue to seat 250 customers everyday, and we recently had a 20-minute wait for dinner.
Boxerbrand: What challenges have you faced?
Craig: Staffing. We’ve been limited in our staffing, like everybody. But we’ve been able to recruit by being quick to respond to resumes and by offering competitive wages. Housing costs are dramatically high everywhere, but, another positive factor about the Lewiston area is that housing costs are not as bad as they are in other areas.
Food costs have also challenged us. Food had to go up pretty dramatically for us to pass on any of it to our customers. But we did do a small price increase on half our menu, which went up by $1. We’ve also struggled with the lack of availability of some products and the lack of reliability of when products are coming in. Pizza boxes and to-go containers are materials we never expected to run out of before this.
Boxerbrand: What makes you optimistic about the future?
Craig: Jules and I are both over 60 and we believe our success in this location has poised us to develop future partnerships with entrepreneurs interested in revitalizing Lewiston. We both believe Lewiston is an undiscovered, hidden gem. — Davinci’s Eatery in Lewiston uses Boxerbrand’s iCandy and Iridescents lines in its table presentation. Thank you!