After opening on December 29, downtown restaurant The Abbey offers a space devoted to community and culinary experimentation, where anyone can start their day with a latte and end it sharing small plates and craft cocktails.
The Abbey is a fully queer-owned business founded by best-friend duo and self-proclaimed “food and beverage nerds” Lainey Catalino and Connor Scott, who seek to offer an invitation to the Brunswick community to gather, try something new and relish in shared experiences.
Catalino and Scott first met working at the local Sea Dog Brewing Company and soon became friends and, later, roommates. Through hosting countless dinner parties and wine tastings for their friends, their shared apartment, affectionately dubbed “The Abbey,” served as a place to get together and enjoy good company. When the pair decided it was time for a career change, they took a risk and embarked on a journey to bring The Abbey to downtown Brunswick.
Once the idea was born, Catalino and Scott began looking for potential locations. Catalino remarked that she was business planning at Little Dog Coffee Shop when a friend asked her to envision what her ideal restaurant would look like. She realized that the central location, big windows, tall ceilings and open floor plan that Little Dog offered was her idea of the perfect space. A few months later, the venue went on the market, and with some luck and good timing, it was theirs.
Despite the building’s prime location, its lack of a full kitchen provided a challenge. With the help of head chef Carlton Trott (former head chef of now closed restaurant Frontier), they were able to develop an ever-changing menu of creative cocktails and shareable plates that made the most of the space’s quirks.
“[We want to] become trustworthy and have people come in and be like, ‘I don’t know what I’m getting from The Abbey today, but I know it’s going to be really good,’” Catalino said.
Catalino and Scott were heavily inspired by the North African, Middle Eastern and Spanish cuisines they encountered in their travels when developing the menu. It was through such travel that the pair learned the power of utilizing food as a means of connection.
“The world is much smaller than it feels, and a conduit through which you can connect with people and bring community from a global scale down to the granular level is through food and drink,” Scott said. “It’s what we’ve done for millennia and is, I think, a tried and true way to integrate people … [and to] have people feel a connection to a place that maybe [they’ve] never been or where they met someone from [a] different culture, and by sharing a meal together, involving those flavors, you can build a lot of humanity.”
As a result, Catalino and Scott built their rotating menu around these kinds of experiences, both from their own lives and from their staff members, many of whom have their own drinks and meals on the menu. With drinks titled “Gap Year,” “Ice Storm of ’98” or “PB-J Manhattan,” the owners incorporate a sense of nostalgia in the menu that they hope will resonate with customers.
“You can bring people back to memories and experiences,” Catalino said.
Serving as a coffee shop, bar and eatery, Catalino and Scott see The Abbey as a communal space for any time of day—the perfect place to hang out with friends at night and come back the next morning for a cup of coffee. In the future, they plan to contribute to Brunswick’s developing food and social scene with wine tastings, coffee classes with their local supplier Bard Coffee and a potential cowboy disco for Valentine’s Day.
“It’s our hope that we help push Brunswick forward and bring it up as a place that people don’t just pass through on the way to the midcoast … or stop on their way down to Portland, but actually come and stay and spend a weekend and patron businesses here and hike and go to the beach and make it really what it’s always kind of destined to be,” Scott said. “Brunswick is coming alive, and there’s room for all of us.”
Three weeks post-opening, The Abbey is living up to the dream Scott and Catalino envisioned back when it was confined to their shared apartment.
“[With] a hope and a prayer [and] a lot of community, we were able to pull it off,” Scott said.