February 3, 2013

New owner of venerable Bingham restaurant sees fulfillment of longtime hope and dream

Town receptive to changes, ambitions of Thompson's Restaurant's new owner, Jay Strickland, and daughter, Amber, who manages eatery

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

BINGHAM -- An entrepreneur who bought an old mill months ago recently took over a local restaurant, hoping to bring more business to the town.

click image to enlarge

Jay Strickland and his daughter, Amber, pose for a portrait outside Thompson's Restaurant on Main Street in Bingham on Wednesday. Jay Strickland recently bought the restaurant and his daughter, Amber, is the manager.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Parker Stevens, left, sits with his two sons, Seth, 19, center, and Brady, 12, during lunch at Thompson's restaurant on Main Street in Bingham on Wednesday. Parker was the owner of the restaurant, before selling to Jay Strickland recently.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

Thompson's Restaurant, which has been around since 1929, was purchased in December by Jay Strickland, who has handed the management of the spot over to his daughter Amber, a culinary-trained manager who worked in Portland restaurants before moving back to her hometown.

People in the town are saying they like the changes at the restaurant. They say the transformation has taken place over the last two years since the previous owners, Parker and Shelly Stevens, bought and remodeled it in May 2011.

"Sometimes it takes people to jump in. I never wanted to run a restaurant, but someone needed to get it started," Stevens said.

The Stricklands officially took over Jan. 1, said Amber Strickland, who manages the restaurant and oversees its seven employees -- a baker, two cooks, one preparation cook and three waitresses.

"This has been my dad's hope and dream for a long time. It was a good reason for me to move back," she said.

In November, Jay Strickland, 59, bought the Quimby Mill from the town with plans to renovate the building and open a sandblasting and equipment repair business. Then in December, he took over Thompson's, one of only two places to eat in town.

He said he's happy to have his daughter back in Bingham and that they plan to expand the restaurant from 45 seats to 75 by renovating a second, unused dining room.

"Our number one goal is to put out a good meal that people will talk about. We want a good reason for people to come to Bingham," he said.

Amber Strickland, 31, graduated from Upper Kennebec Valley High School in 1999 and from the culinary arts program at Southern Maine Community College in 2001. She also has a bachelor's degree in health fitness from the University of Southern Maine, where she graduated in 2007.

She has managed and worked in restaurants including the Hilton Garden Inn and the Marriott Hotel in Portland.

She said that since taking over the restaurant some things have stayed the same, such as the homemade doughnuts and pea soup, while some things will change. She wants to introduce pizza to the menu and has added specials such as prime rib and seafood dishes on Friday and Saturday nights.

At lunch on a recent weekday afternoon, Sam and Sandy Gynan, of Greenville, were eating sandwiches and drinking Coke. Sam, 76, had a steak-and-cheese sub while Sandy, 74, was having ham and cheese on homemade bread.

The Gynans said they have been coming to Thompson's for about 30 years because it is on their way to a camp they have in Mayfield. Sam said he likes the fast service, cleanliness and the tin ceiling in the old restaurant.

"In the fall they also have a lobster roll, which is excellent and comes with a lot of lobster," said Sam.

At a nearby table sat Greg and Anita Andre, owners of The Bingham Motor Inn, a 20-room inn that is the town's only motel. The Andres said they have relied on Thompson's for years as a place to send motel guests.

"Our reputation is on the line when people ask where there is to eat, and it's always about the second or third question guests ask," said Anita Andre, 65. They keep the menu in the rooms, she said.

On Wednesday the Andres were eating at Thompson's for the fourth time in a week. "We were totally full with smowmobilers last weekend and brought a group of 10 here. Between the service, the food and the atmosphere, I think everyone was happy. It's a place I can truthfully recommend," said Greg Andre, 65.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Karen "Kiki" Beane serves some corn chowder while working the kitchen at Thompson's restaurant on Main Street in Bingham on Wednesday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Diners sit for lunch at Thompson's restaurant on Main Street in Bingham on Wednesday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Heather Beane pulls some fresh-baked bread out of the oven, and places the loaves on cooling racks, at Thompson's Restaurant on Main Street in Bingham on Wednesday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Shelly Stevens, former owner of Thompson's Restaurant, along with her husband, Parker, carries orders from the kitchen to patrons on Wednesday. Stevens still works as a waitress for the new owners of Thompson's Restaurant.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Jay Strickland and his daughter, Amber, pose for a portrait outside Thompson's Restaurant on Main Street in Bingham on Wednesday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

 


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