While the lead singer of Semisonic performs in “Closing Time,” the band’s late ’90s hit: “Every new beginning comes at the end of another beginning.”
This is the case of Wiscasset’s Little Village Bistro, which closed on December 18 after opening at 65 Gardiner Road since 2015.
The Bistro’s fine Italian-influenced American cuisine, prepared and served by chef Tony Bickford and his wife Cassandra Bickford, has been a valuable resource in Wiscasset since it first hit the scene, but the Bickfords have taken inspiration from the pandemic to deliver a new type of food a service.
The facility was limited by the size of the building and its ability to recruit and retain staff, and the pandemic has exacerbated these struggles and more. In the end, Tony Bickford decided he didn’t want his business to be “small” forever.
“In order to do more, to move forward, I decided to change direction all together,” said Bickford.
In April, the Bickfords will open Midcoast Provisions, a market-style service offering meals, dinner kits and locally selected items for pickup and delivery as an alternative to dining. The operation will keep most of the bistro’s staff and favorites off its menu, while focusing more on sourcing ingredients locally.
Prior to March 2020, Bickford was still determined to one day assemble a reliable group of experienced cooks and open another location, but the global outbreak of COVID-19 forced him to think about ways to adapt his business model to the new environment.
Struggling to find someone to fill the position, Bickford served as the bistro’s dishwasher three to four days a week for the last two months of its operation, and during that time he decided he didn’t want to ask no member of his staff doing the arduous and dirty work.
“I have this position on the flat that I don’t even really want to offer people because it’s miserable,” he said. “I want to be able to only offer jobs that I would also like to do myself. I want to provide a less stressful and (more) family-friendly work environment with the potential to become more of a career, not just a job.
In addition, the bistro’s kitchen staff, trained to adjust the ingredients of each dish to taste, suddenly had to wear masks. To accommodate, Bickford switched to consistent recipes and pre-made sauces that would be consistent without adjustment for taste.
Bickford realized that transitioning to a pre-order market format with consistent recipes would take a lot of stress out for him and his staff and potentially allow the chef to step back from cooking more frequently.
Running a restaurant takes time and demands late hours. There were many nights when Bickford left work at 10:30 p.m. and had dinner at midnight. With a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old and a one-year-old, he hopes his new business model will allow him to maintain a lifestyle where he can regularly attend all of their school functions, plays and games. theater and football.
COVID-19 also forced Bickford to make take-out in 2020, and he was surprised to find that customers liked the ability to get the same high-quality food the bistro typically offered in a take-out box. Before they knew it, the Bickfords were using online ordering.
“COVID has forced us to familiarize ourselves with shipping our products and… familiarize ourselves with some automation in our system,” Bickford said.
He hopes this pivot will allow him to increase his overall income and offer employee benefits, which was not in the bistro’s budget.
Another new offering from Midcoast Provisions will be meal kits, an idea that came to Bickford while vacationing in Airbnbs with his family. He found it was always a challenge to get all the ingredients together to cook a great meal away from home, often buying more ingredients than needed for the weekend.
The kits won’t be like Blue Apron, where customers are asked to cut and measure their ingredients. Midcoast Provisions kits will not require the use of knives, all ingredients will be pre-measured and customers will only need to follow five or six steps.
“They come to Maine, maybe they’ve never seen a live lobster or a cooked live mussel… it’s something they can enjoy while they’re eating it, but don’t forget either. the process, ”Bickford said.
While the menu will feature bistro favorites like stuffed haddock and braised beef, it will also feature a lot more local ingredients. Part of the difficulty with using local ingredients in Maine is that many of those ingredients are seasonal, requiring a menu to be subject to change depending on the time of year.
“When people come in they want to be able to get the same thing as last time, which they remember. That’s what they came for, “he said.
Because of this, Bickford said the business may very well only open in season and on holidays.
Bickford said while most people are happy to see him and his team bring something new to Wiscasset, some are sad to see the bistro go.
He said a man walked into the bistro with his wife shortly before it closed and was upset about losing a restaurant he and his wife loved to frequent. Bickford said Midcoast Provisions could offer the couple a whole new way to spend time together.
“Maybe he never cooks for his wife, now he gets the chance to have a great meal somewhere they loved to go, and even if he spoils it, it will always be a great and memorable experience,” Bickford said. .
For more information on Midcoast arrangements, visit midcoastmeprovisions.com.