MOUNT DESERT, Maine — Where a pile of rubble and charred timbers once stood, a restaurant that burned to the ground last summer has been rebuilt and reopened.

The Colonel’s Deli & Bakery opened May 29, 10 months from the day it and two other buildings, one on either side of the restaurant, were lost in a July 29 blaze that threatened to destroy an entire block of stores along Main Street in the village of Northeast Harbor.

The other two lots on each side of the restaurant remain vacant.

Colonel’s owners Mark and Stephanie Reece said Friday they have known since the remains of the old building still smoldered that they wanted to rebuild. They said they worked hard to reopen by Memorial Day, but couldn’t quite make the arbitrary deadline they had set for themselves.

“The last couple of weeks were seven-days-a-week to get ready,” Mark Reece said while standing on the restaurant’s rear deck.

The eatery has a storefront deli and bakery, just like the old Colonel’s, but now has a bar adjacent to its dining room. Unlike the old restaurant, which used an alleyway and side doors as its main entrance, the new dining room is accessible through the deli in front.

Aside from the new layout and the added comfort of air conditioning, much of the Reeces’ business will be familiar to Colonel’s repeat customers. The restaurant still serves three meals a day and the hours are the same, they said, and the menu has not changed.

“We’re running the same operation we have for the past 30 years,” Mark Reece said.

Stephanie Reece said she felt “relieved” to have finished rebuilding the deli and to be resuming the life she previously had known.

“Definitely, it feels good to be back,” she said. “[The new restaurant] has been busy. It’s been nice.”

Another feature to the building is a new use the Reeces have added to the second floor. The old building had living quarters for restaurant employees, but the new building has hotel-style rooms called the Colonel’s Suites. Each rental suite has a separate bedroom, living room and bathroom and is equipped with a kitchenette, in-cluding small refrigerator, microwave oven and coffee maker.

Mark Reece said the suites would be available by the night, week, or anywhere in between. There also will be room service from the downstairs restaurant, he said.

Federal disaster loans were made available to all of the businesses damaged in the July 29 fire, but the Reeces said they opted to get regular financing through a local bank.

In January, the town received notices from the owners and tenants of the neighboring Joy Building, which was damaged heavily in the same fire, that they intended to file claims against the town for knocking down the remnants of the building.

According to Mount Desert Town Manager Michael MacDonald, the owners and tenants were unhappy that they were not given the chance to try to retrieve their belongings from the rubble, and to restore what was left of the building. The building’s shell was demolished after the fire because Fire Chief Mike Bender decided it was unsafe to enter.

According to notices the town received, the estimate of claims for art and antiques that were in the Joy Building when it burned totaled nearly $400,000. The estimated claim for the building, owned by Cody and Christiaan van Heerden, is $1 million.

MacDonald said Friday that he has heard nothing about the possible claims since the town was notified about them in January. All documents concerning the claims have been sent to the town’s insurer, Maine Municipal Association’s Risk Management Service, he said.

Clerks in Hancock County Superior Court in Ellsworth, where civil lawsuits are filed, said Friday they had no record of any such suits in the court’s files.

MacDonald said the now-vacant Main Street lot where the Tan Turtle Tavern used to be is being sold. The Tan Turtle Tavern was destroyed in a separate fire in January that was accidentally caused by plumbers repairing frozen pipes beneath the restaurant’s wooden floor.

MacDonald said the former Tan Turtle lot is expected to be redeveloped as office space.


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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....