ALLAGASH, Maine — Regardless when dawn breaks, it’s the first light at Two Rivers Lunch that many folks here say is the official start of the day.

“There is this one little light over what we call ‘the locals’ table,’” Two Rivers owner Darlene Kelly Dumond says. When turned on, the light “means the coffee’s been started, the door is open and come on in.”

For over 40 years, Two Rivers Lunch has been the epicenter of Allagash’s social and political scene, dishing out good food, discussion and information in near equal parts.

“People come in to talk about the weather, exchange news, see how they are feeling, who got their deer or moose or just the status of what is going on for the day,” Dumond said. “Irish, French, Catholic, Baptist — they all gather here and head out with a big laugh.”

Tucked on a narrowing spit of land between the Allagash and St. John rivers, the diner comes alive Saturday mornings, when regulars Randy Kelly and Hilton Hafford are often first to greet the first light at around 6:30 a.m.

“I come in most Saturday mornings,” Hafford says, helping himself to a cup of coffee. “You probably didn’t know, there are meetings here every morning. We can fix some of the world’s problems every morning and then the next day fix them all over again.”

On this Saturday, as customers began to trickle in, the terrorist attacks in Paris were the order of the morning. Soon, however, conversation ranged to more local interests, such as who was driving the new logging truck, how many hunters were passing through and the annual Christmas craft fair later that day.

Like a brush fire, conversations and spirited debates spread quickly from table to table. Ann Gendreau, 81, sat with her longtime chum and retired teacher Dorilla Ouellette.

“I’m in here for breakfast three or four times a week,” Gendreau says. “We come in for food and friends,” Ouellette replies. “Well, I put the food first,” Gendreau says with a laugh. “Then I get caught up on the news.”

Similar scenes as this Saturday at Two Rivers have been performed ever since Dumond’s parents, Tyler and Leitha Kelly, opened a roadside food stand on the site 40 years ago.

Dumond recalls her parents were asked to supply food for a town gathering.

“People asked my mom if she could supply some of the food,” she says. “Our house was always a place people came to enjoy food, so why not?”

That first stand, Dumond remembers, featured her family selling hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries. “We’ve been at it ever since,” she says.

Over time, the stand transformed, piece by piece, into a full-fledged restaurant.

“People would bring windows, boards and other materials to put the building together,” Dumond says. “So now we have the wonderful little restaurant you see today.”

Inside, the decor is influenced by the north Maine woods. Mounted moose and deer heads peer from the walls. A stuffed bobcat mingles with a stuffed weasel on the woodstove. Photos of past hunts — most signed by the hunters and their guides — are everywhere.

The coffee pot just inside the door is rarely empty. Regulars never wait to be served, often pouring themselves a cup before setting down to order from menus memorized long ago.

That menu consists of stews, soups, pasta, meatloaf and pies, also known as “Allagash comfort food,” Dumond says, with recipes handed down by generations of Allagash women.

Two Rivers is open every day except Christmas, but even then, Dumond says the doors are left unlocked, coffee is made and her mother sets out homemade donuts if someone wants stop by. For many, Dumond says, coming in to Two Rivers is coming home.

On this Saturday, this was the case for Bob Hafford and his family, who had traveled from central Maine to attend his mother’s funeral. Hafford, 47, was born in Allagash.

He still considers it home.

“When you are from here, you are always from here. When you come back to Two Rivers, it’s the conversations here that remind you that you are home,” Hafford says. “This is where you find out what’s going on and who is doing what.”

Those conversations and stories, he says, are pure gold.

“When you walk in here and see all these local guys here, you want to get the table closest to them that you can,” Hafford says. “You want to hear those stories.”

Hafford remembers exploring the woods and waters of Allagash as a boy and these days brings his own children — ages 6 and 4 — to the area on family vacations.

“Coming back here has always been a staple of my life,” he says. “Now I am bringing my children. And I don’t think they fully appreciate now, but, damn it, someday they will,” he adds with a laugh.

And like families everywhere, sometimes discussions can grow heated or the laughter a bit loud, but most everyone who steps into Two Rivers will be back.

“This is how it is,” Dorilla Ouellette says. “Somedays we come for breakfast and start talking and laughing so much and so long we have to order lunch.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.