BANGOR — Out back in the kitchen at La Cena Italian Bistro & Pizzeria is one very busy young man.
James Gallagher, 24, is the owner and main chef of the restaurant at 621 Hammond St., which opened in May. It’s the most recent of seven ventures for the Bangor resident.
What is it that drives Gallagher?
“I like to keep busy,” he said in a recent interview at his restaurant. “I’m not one to sit around. I’m not the average 24-year-old that wants to play video games. I want to accomplish things.”
In addition to working at the restaurant, Gallagher is also the owner of Country Thyme Gifts, co-owner of JG Development and Silver & Gold Miners, president of James Gallagher Designs, senior vice president and office and property manager for All-That Contractors, founder and director of Breaking Bread Soup Kitchen & Food Pantry, fund-raising director of Apostolic Lighthouse Church, and secretary and treasurer for Boy Scout Troop 5.
How does Gallagher juggle it all?
“I have people who work with me, many hands that help, mostly family,” he explained.
For example, both his mother Elizabeth and his grandmother Mary Lou are among the five employees at La Cena, located on the corner of Hammond and Perkins streets in the former Jimmy V’s space.
What made Gallagher want to add a restaurant to his other ventures?
“I was driving by and saw a great opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed cooking … and eating. The food here is what I’ve grown up with: pasta and pizza.”
Gallagher started with a simpler menu that has expanded with time. It now includes salads, soup, subs, paninis, pasta dinners, and pizza.
Many Bangor-area restaurants offer similar menus. So how does Gallagher make La Cena stand apart?
“It’s fresh food here,” he said. “We do as much as we can ourselves so we can be unique. People enjoy homemade flavors rather than packaged ingredients.”
The bread recipes used at La Cena have been passed down from Gallagher’s great-grandmother, while the signature sauces he uses were developed for the restaurant.
La Cena’s offerings have evolved. For a short time, Gallagher offered breakfast as well, but the numbers didn’t support that. Now he’s developing faster foods for the lunchtime crowd, including pizza slices, pasta, and subs.
He offers takeout and delivery and has done some catering, on and off site, as well as preparing party-size portions with a day’s notice.
On one recent day, Robert “Gramps” Hunt and Sally Madore were enjoying lunch: a pizza slice along with salads and a panini.
Hunt and Madore have been coming in about 2-3 times a week since La Cena opened. What keeps them coming back?
“It’s homemade, just like Grandma used to make,” Hunt said.
The biggest lesson Gallagher has learned: “There’s so many people with ideas that they think would make it better, but you have to stay true to yourself.”
Gallagher has been pleased with how La Cena has developed over the past eight months.
“You can never predict what each day will hold,” he said. “But we’re holding our own for a place that’s fairly new. We’ve got a great group of regulars who come in all the time.”
La Cena Italian Bistro & Pizzeria is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Saturday. For more information, call (207) 947-6222.