Whether it is 200 wooden pallets or a new brunch spot, Mike Jerome always seems to have a plan.
What, other than being Brunswick food staples, is the through line between Fat Boy Drive In, Bolos Kitchen and Burger Bar, and Brunswick’s Portland Pie Company? Mike Jerome.
From Edinburgh, Scotland to Brunswick, Maine, Jerome seemingly always finds some endeavor to keep him busy. He has become the town’s resident restaurateur after the Covid-19 pandemic profoundly changed Brunswick’s nightlife, but with continued changes to ownership in town and some pushback from town administration, Jerome’s growth is becoming more complicated.
An unusual start
After growing up in Scotland, Jerome came to America for boarding high school and never left. He went to St. Lawrence University in New York—after, funnily enough, being waitlisted from Bowdoin. He found his love for working in the food industry while working at restaurants over the summer in Martha’s Vineyard.
“What [the cooks] did was they worked at yacht clubs for five months, and then they took a month off in November. Then they went down to St. Martin’s, and they worked at this other high-end resort,” Jerome said. “I was like, ‘that’s what I want to do. That sounds amazing. I love cooking.’ So, then I decided I would go to culinary school.”
After moving away from New England and getting married in Austin, Texas, he came up to Portland and realized he had to move back to the area. When he moved here, he started his soup delivery business, Kamasouptra. At the same time, he worked as a manager in one of the Portland Pie Company stores in Scarborough.
It was through a partnership with Portland Pie that his soup business continued to grow. However, when his children were getting old enough to go to school, he and his wife knew they wanted a place with a more small town atmosphere, so they decided to move to Brunswick.
At this point, Jerome talked to the Portland Pie Company about expanding operations to Brunswick. Initially, they were hesitant; however, when Jerome offered to be the one to personally get it off the ground, they changed their tune.
“They were like, ‘Well, we talked about franchising in the past. I don’t know how that would work. It’s really complicated.’ So, I was like, ‘I know it’s really complicated and would be complicated for somebody else, but I helped build it. So, why don’t you let me do it?’ And they said, ‘That’s actually a great idea,’” Jerome said.
Businesses, Bowdoin and Brunswick
The rest is history. After running Brunswick’s Portland Pie for a few years, Jerome approached the person who owned a local bowling alley to buy the property. After sealing the deal, Jerome renovated the space to make a bar, bowling alley combination, which has since been renovated into the event space and bar that is Bolos today.
The opening of Bolos in 2019 accelerated a shift in Brunswick’s downtown nightlife. According to Jerome, before Bolos, much of the town’s nightlife was concentrated further up Maine Street—toward the College—at Benchwarmers Sports Pub, which opened in the fall of 2009 and was located in the lot to the right of the Brunswick Hotel.
For Bowdoin students until around 2017, the widespread off-campus housing culture pushed parties and hangouts downtown or off-campus, making the Brunswick nightlife a more pervasive part of the student experience. With multiple establishments open until 1 a.m., including Joshua’s Tavern, Benchwarmers and MyTie (a night club located below what is now Social Goose until it closed in 2021), engagement with the town and students was much higher than that of today.
“Now [Bolos] is really the only place that is open late. So for Bowdoin students, it’s great for [going] once a week, but other people who want to go out maybe Friday and Saturday, [they] will have already been here Friday and maybe want somewhere else,” Jerome said. “Anything to bring people to downtown Brunswick versus the [bigger chain stores] … because that’s really not what I think Brunswick is all about.”
Jerome took over Benchwarmers in 2019 and renamed it Bench. He quickly found that the crowd frequenting the establishment was not conducive to a good business environment. In fact, the Brunswick Police Department and town placed a curfew on the bar for over six months, not allowing alcohol sales after 9 p.m., according to Jerome. When the Covid pandemic forced the business to close its doors, Jerome experimented with his next venture: Flip.
While short-lived, Flip was Jerome’s first foray into brunch food and it sparked the brunch service now offered at Bolos. Flip and other 212 Maine Street businesses, including Lemongrass, moved from the premises after the property’s acquisition by the Brunswick Hotel, who are planning to renovate the property.
“People are kind of upset about [the purchase] because it displaced a few local small businesses, but I don’t know. Gentrification isn’t a bad word. Somebody wants to take that [property] … and they want to put $5 million dollars into that space and make it nice. Everyone’s going to love it once it’s there,” Jerome said. “With the displacement of the businesses, I was fine.”
At the same time, Jerome has pursued another business venture: Fat Boy Drive In. The 1940s-era drive-in restaurant is a Brunswick relic, and when it went up for sale in 2019, he jumped at the chance to take it over.
But Jerome quickly ran into problems. At first, he envisioned a remodel of the establishment, preserving the old charm while creating indoor seating and increasing the restaurant’s capacity. However, he ran into problems with the town council because the Fat Boy property is on an aquifer (an underground layer of water-bearing, permeable rock). That means Jerome can’t build or tear down anything on that land.
While he won’t be able to expand Fat Boy anytime soon, Jerome has revived the business from a slump it faced coming out of Covid. Brunswick local and Bowdoin student Libby Boutin ’24 has seen the recovery of the restaurant firsthand as a part-time manager.
“It was very interesting managing there. Fat Boy is a very particular place. It’s a good time and a very fun summery job,” Boutin said.
Boutin has worked at all of Jerome’s endeavors, starting as a server at Portland Pie, then bartending at Bolos and ultimately helping run Fat Boy for a summer, thanks to a Career Exploration and Development grant. Boutin emphasized that Jerome has worked with the College, capitalizing off of a strong connection between his business and the Bowdoin community, whether with catering or employing students.
“That’s always been a connection of his, and I think a lot of other people have started to realize how big of an impact Bowdoin has. Especially seeing all that revenue [it brings], having that connection is very important, not only for Bowdoin but also for the businesses,” Boutin said. “Mike has definitely upped the game in that sense.”
What’s next for Mike Jerome?
Jerome’s future endeavors are shifting away from the restaurant industry. Currently, he is looking to create an outdoor concert venue and barbecue for the summers, a bouldering gym somewhere in Brunswick and rentable personal office spaces in the basement of Portland Pie.
“I’m actually going to pick up 200 wooden pallets to build stages and bars outside, so that’s what I want to do,” Jerome said.
While he can’t decide where his next business venture may take him, Jerome’s devotion to the Brunswick business doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.