DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — When Dover-Foxcroft’s historic Mayo woolen mill buildings transformed into a mixed-use complex with a boutique, inn, cafe, residences and office space in 2015, the town gained a major attraction.
“It was the crown jewel, and everyone was thrilled that it was thriving,” said Brenda Schultz, who lives in the town and owns five Airbnb properties there. “We had such a depressed economy here for a long time. And here was something very beautiful.”
While the renovated complex overlooking the Piscataquis River, known as The Mill, has kept the apartments and office space operating, the inn and cafe closed in 2020 due to labor shortages and COVID-19 challenges.
Now The Mill is gearing up to reopen its lodging and restaurant and once again make the town sparkle. New management teams hope to draw more visitors to the area, helping Dover-Foxcroft gain a reputation as a travel destination in the heart of Maine and boost morale among residents.
Experience Maine, a Portland-based travel concierge and event planning company, will manage the inn, which plans to reopen Nov. 1. Schultz will take over The Mill Cafe, set to reopen at the end of this month.
The lodging will have a similar feel to Airbnb, where guests can check in on their own, but the management team will work behind the scenes to customize their stays, said Rachel Sagiroglu, founder and chief experience officer.
Guests might, for instance, want to plan a weekend getaway to a quiet town and package it with a culinary experience or beer tasting, Sagiroglu said. The company is working to make these options available, along with other optional add-ons that patrons might want, such as champagne and welcome gifts.
“We’re going to have a place in the community and make that community more vibrant,” she said. “We want this to succeed.”
Experience Maine encounters many clients who want to visit the state’s most popular and Instagrammable destinations, but the company has started to encourage travel to more low-key spots that still offer memorable things to do. Sagiroglu noted Dover-Foxcroft is centrally located, not far from outdoor adventures at Moosehead Lake, Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park.
“It’s nice to now actually have the ability to drive people someplace that we touch,” Sagiroglu said. “If we can bring more visibility to inland Maine and to these towns that are sweet and quaint and have everything within an hour drive, I think that’s huge.”
Armanda Davis, Experience Maine’s senior travel adviser, considers Dover-Foxcroft a second home. She has family in the town, and growing up, she spent holidays and school vacations in the area, often on Sebec Lake.
“I have always been passionate about promoting tourism in the region but never expected to be doing so in this capacity,” she said. “Managing The Mill is a project that just fell into my lap, and I am very excited to have the opportunity to get the inn up and running once again.”
Schultz said The Mill Cafe will be open seven days a week, though with limited hours for the first few weeks, and will serve handcrafted coffee and tea drinks, along with baked goods.
As an Airbnb owner, Schultz heard from guests that they enjoyed their stays but wished there were more amenities in the area. Since about April, there hasn’t been a local coffee shop in town, which is important for travelers and town residents, she said.
“I want to bring culture and a sense of life to the town and have it be like a hub, a place to go and relax, and [to] actually elevate the standard of living in this town,” she said.
Schultz, who was born and raised in Dover-Foxcroft but spent 30 years as a graphic artist in California, renovates all of her properties with the help of her husband, Robert Stevens. She travels as far as New York to handpick unique furniture — a strategy she has also executed at the cafe.
Patrons can expect to enjoy their drinks surrounded by comfortable leather chairs and ottomans, Persian rugs and custom-made cherry and oak side tables from Schultz’s stepbrother, Zack Dow. There’s also plenty of greenery, donated by community members, to brighten the space. A local art curator, Sher Pierson, will select and display works from artists in the region, which will be available for customers to purchase.
Schultz purchased coffee equipment from Lori Sharrow, who used to own a local coffee shop and will be roasting the beans for the cafe.
“I like to collaborate with other people who I think are really talented,” Schultz said, pointing to Sharrow’s knowledge of best practices for roasting and crafting drinks.
Eventually, Schultz hopes to expand the cafe’s offerings. She’s meeting with local restaurants and businesses about serving their food during lunch hours. She wants to host wine and beer tastings, weekend markets and live performances with area musicians.
“Everywhere I go, people are stopping me and asking when it’s opening and how soon can they come in,” she said. “I’m really happy that I’m doing something important for our town and the people in it.”
Christian Arnold, the Kansas City, Missouri-based architect who designed The Mill’s renovation, is excited about the reopening of the inn and cafe. He says the new management teams have strong reputations and “a collective vision of untapped potential.”
“Our hope from the onset of this project was that like-minded visionaries would join us in creating a special place in Dover-Foxcroft,” he said. “This finally seems to be happening.”
The Mill has six rooms available at the inn. Once it’s open, those interested in booking a stay can visit the website or find availability on other major travel sites.