When Becky Marcos starts talking about her deli’s breakfast sandwiches, her voice perks up with an enthusiasm typically reserved for special occasions, like the first time you hear “Dance Yrself Clean” or when you find your lost OneCard in the pocket of that jacket you thought you would wear more when you bought it. Her tone indicates the discovery of something special. The discovery of this place, Lighthouse Variety & Deli, and its food is a joy that has been shared by Brunswick residents and Bowdoin students alike.

Marcos wears a knit beanie to work and has a soft, even voice. “I’m a mom,” she said. “I just don’t have kids anymore.” When we sat down to talk, she took care to turn off the TV that normally plays in the back of the store. The only thing that disrupted her steadily upbeat demeanor was the design of new Mountain Dew can—it mimicked a beer can, using adjectives like “crafted.” “This place is supposed to be family-friendly!” Marcos protested.

An emphasis on family grounds Marcos’ values: “My father owned his own business and worked very hard to be a success.” He would leave for work before she woke up in the mornings, and would come home briefly at 5 p.m. to catch up with the family over dinner before returning to work.

She describes herself as the kind of person who does things completely. “It takes me a while to make a decision, but that’s because when I commit to something I do it the best I can.”
Learning how to navigate the small-business scene of Brunswick was a challenge, and she had to pick up as she went along. “I had no experience at all, before. With what I know now, I was crazy and stupid, back then.” Before owning Lighthouse Variety & Deli, she worked as bursar for a private school.

Some things come naturally to Marcos, like the upsell. When I asked her about what she has done to stand apart from other local markets, her enthusiasm was palpable.

“My stuff is twice as expensive, but it’s twice as good!” Marcos exclaimed with conviction. She is resolved to spend more on the “little pepperonis that cup up” rather than the larger ones that lay flat and don’t get crunchy, and the locally-made English muffins she described candidly as “like little clouds.”

Yet after two years of experience, Marcos still grapples with some issues faced by small business owners.

“The biggest challenge that anyone in my business faces is employees, your workforce. Getting reliable people you can trust that are going to show up on work on time and clean and not steal from you and have a good rapport with customers.” She only has one employee, Jen, who has stayed with her from the beginning, her team of nine in near-constant turnover.

Luckily, rapport with customers comes easily to Marcos herself, and much of her business comes from regulars: the people who live down the street, the students who live nearby and the athletes coming from Farley.

She was particularly close to the 2014 football team. 

“I named the Polar Bear after them. They would come in and order their sandwiches: ‘Well, I want a double-egg. No, I want two meats. I want this, I want that.’ They kept ordering a double-egg, double-meat sandwich, so I named it the Polar Bear.”

After we had been speaking for a while, she paused in the middle of a sentence and interjected: “You know what I love the most? Ivies weekend, or the big football weekends, when all the alums come.”

“They push all my tables together and I get all the old kids from since I’ve started the store, and they all come and I’ll have 30 or 40 of them—standing room only. They all come in and get their sandwiches and I get hugs and kisses from everybody.”

“They bring their moms and dads in to meet me. I love that.”