OWLS HEAD, Maine ― Since she was a child, 26-year-old Maya Newsam has spent her summers escaping to the serenity of this tiny seaside town.
So when she lost her job as the bar manager of a nightclub in Salem, Massachusetts, in the wave of COVID-19-related business closures, she figured a couple weeks at her family’s home in Owls Head would do her good.
That two-week escape would completely change her life.
Newsam bought the Owls Head General Store earlier this month. She did not disclose the final sale price, but the business was listed for $275,000 when it went on the market a few years ago.
“It wasn’t even on my radar,” Newsam said about buying the store. “These past few months have been a whirlwind. My whole life completely went into a different direction.”
The Owls Head General Store, which is located next to the town’s post office, was built in 1880 and has operated as a general store since around the 1920s. The store has closed for varying periods of time during the past 100 years, most recently in 2017.
In the years before it closed, the Owls Head General Store had garnered a reputation for having excellent food. It became famous for its “Seven Napkin Burger,” which Food Network Magazine named the best burger in Maine in 2009.
Since the 2017 closure, there hasn’t been a place in Owls Head for tourists, fishermen and locals alike to grab a quick bite to eat, replenish the weekend beer supply or get that one ingredient they forgot to pick up at Hannaford.
When Newsam arrived in Owls Head this spring, she expressed disbelief to her mother that the store still had not found an owner.
Her mother said the store “needed someone with restaurant and management experience and someone who is willing to work crazy long hours and who cares about the community of Owls Head.”
“We got off the phone and I was immediately like, ‘Is that me?’” she said. “I think that’s me that we were just describing.”
Newsam has worked in the restaurant industry for more than a decade, starting as a dishwasher and working her way up through serving and bartending positions, before her latest role as a bar manager.
While she grew up out of state, her mother’s family is from Owls Head. Newsam’s great-great-grandfather is P.K. Reed, who built a prominent fishing pier in Owls Head more than 100 years ago. Buying the store seemed like the perfect way to combine her passion for the restaurant industry and management with her love for the Owls Head community.
The general store is located a short distance from the popular Owls Head Lighthouse and is just around the corner from a busy fishing wharf and an in-the-works town-owned pier and park project.
As a child, Newsam herself recalls making trips to the store on summer mornings for breakfast sandwiches before darting across the road to the small pond for a day of catching frogs.
“I do want to provide that essential service to the community,” Newsam said. “Owls Head is my favorite place in the world and it was so sad when it lost its hub.”
While there is plenty of work that needs to be done before Newsam can open the store, she said she doesn’t have any plans to radically change the place. The menu for the restaurant side of the store will remain largely unchanged.
After recently securing the secret recipe, Newsam said the “Seven Napkin Burger” will absolutely be making a comeback.
Yes, she will add a craft beer and wine selection to the grocery side of the store, but those fancier brews will be offered right alongside 30-racks of Bud Light and lottery tickets.
“I want the store to remain the way that it was,” Newsam said. “I’m really not trying to change much.”
The store doesn’t have a firm opening date just yet, but Newsam is hoping it will be open by the fall.
While purchasing a new business in the middle of a pandemic was nerve-racking, ultimately, Newsam said it was a blessing in disguise since there is less of a rush to open.
By opening around September, she hopes the off-season will give her time to get her feet under her before summer 2021 and also time to develop a relationship with the Owls Head community — which is the biggest reason she’s committing to reopening the store, anyways.
“Yes, tourism will help my business. But I’m not just here for that,” Newsam said. “The fishermen all have to pass by me. The post office is my neighbor. I want to be here for the locals.”