CAMDEN, Maine ― Gabriela Acero and Derek Richard, the new owners of a former downtown pub, have put a lot of thought into their new restaurant, a steakhouse with a Maine-inspired menu.
But, they also realized that launching wolfpeach in the midst of a pandemic wouldn’t do the service-heavy concept justice. The temporary solution? Dickie Steels’ BBQ pop-up at wolfpeach.
The takeout-only BBQ pop-up will allow them to utilize the building they purchased at 50 Elm St. to operate this winter and generate income until it is safer to open the wolfpeach dining room.
“We’ve made a choice to put a pin in wolfpeach as a restaurant and open with more of a temporary pop-up concept,” Acero said. “The reality just became clear that we didn’t want to try to force this wolfpeach concept into a takeout model because we would just be really limited with the breadth of the menu we were interested in doing.”
The couple hopes to open Dickie Steels’ BBQ in March, though an exact opening date is dependent on when they receive their final permits. Both the pop-up endeavor and wolfpeach will be based out of the former home of the Drouthy Bear, which closed last spring due to the constraints of the pandemic.
While the pandemic is forcing many restaurants to rethink their business model or close entirely, some restaurateurs are taking chances and opening new endeavors..
Just up the street from wolfpeach, Me Lon Togo, a West African and European restaurant, opened last summer.
Acero, who grew up in Waterville, and Richard, a New Jersey native who moved to Maine four years ago, met while working on opening the Oxbow Beer Garden in Oxford. Both had backgrounds in the industry — Acero worked on opening restaurants and Richard was a chef.
Settling in Maine was always the goal for Acero and Richard.
“Maine was always kind of the end game,” Richard said. “The coast, the seafood, the local farming communities. I love the intense seasons here. Everything that drew me to food is embodied in Maine.”
Though they didn’t expect to be setting down roots here so soon. Beyond the Oxbow project, the couple planned on temporarily relocating to Miami, Florida, for a restaurant project but the pandemic dashed those plans and left the couple unemployed.
With plenty of time on their hands, they got a jump on their Maine plans.
“Here is this chunk of time that has been handed us, let’s be really creative,” Acero said.
What developed was wolfpeach: their take on a steakhouse, with an a la carte menu featuring local seafood and produce from Maine farms. But it wasn’t just the menu they got creative with, it was how the restaurant would operate, too.
Under what Acero called a “holistic business model,” front and back of the house staff will be paid equitable salaries, so customers won’t have to tip to subsidize the wages of servers. They also hope to offer health insurance for their employees, a rarity in the foodservice industry.
“With a little bit of effort and creativity I think a lot of the [aspects of a restaurant’s business model] can be reamingined in a more positive way,” Acero said.
For now, Richard is tapping into his experience working in Austin, Texas, as the driving force behind Dickie Steels’ BBQ. During his time in the southern city, he mostly worked in fine dining, but was trained there by a barbecue pitmaster.
Richard plans to tap into this experience to offer Texas-style barbecue to Camden and surrounding communities, though he said the sides offered will be more Maine-inspired than the traditional mac and cheese.
“If we can’t really open indoors, barbecue is great, especially since we have an outdoor seating area during the summer,” Richard said.
Correction: A previous version of this report misspelled Derek Richard’s last name.