Catering, running a restaurant in Maine and doing it as a family.
One big happy brood all the time? Well, not necessarily. Family businesses have their own unique set of strengths, weaknesses. Too familiar can breed contempt. Respect can go out the door along with all warm and fuzzy when the orders are coming at you too fast and furious. And you are dealing with the public that can become more and more brutal, demanding the longer they have to wait.
The Parkview Terrace in Houlton Maine on Main Street across from Cary Library started serving food in 1966.
The peak of panic pushing the plates was one major holiday that caused them to herd in like cattle. Very hungry bovine. Mother’s Day gets the award according to Neil Cowperthwaite, one of the sons working in the operation of his parents Albro and Marion. 1300 people served food in three hours. Whoa. That is NASCAR pit stop efficient. When I see that mental blur, I get tired.
But busy can be it’s own sweet elixir when you are prone to being restless. When growing up, you were often pushed on by a thought if sitting too long, too still, “let’s do something”. The satisfaction of cranking out that much food to that large a crowd is impressive. For over forty years, the business flourished so they had to be pretty skilled, very good to keep the doors open so long. Making the hungry patrons come back for more.
It took a week and a half in the big kitchen on the lower level under the dining room complex to clean the tittering, tower of dishes.
The “vehicles” that carried the main course food, the side dishes like corn fritters, and all the pies, cakes, squares, cookies and other sweets to complete the dining experience. All the dishes, glasses, cups and silverware required a ten day recovery after Mother’s Day to get the complete sets back sparkling clean. Stacked, shelved and readied for the next meal time maneuver.
Holidays were the best for business. But not spent like you and I not in the food service business. When we might be at our own table serving up family food tradition recipes. Or asking if there might be a sliver of banana cream or Maine blueberry pie left out back to top off the calories. When quizzed do you miss the madness of Mother’s Day at the Parkview, the answer is would you miss a migraine? Intensity and the satisfaction of getting it done, working hard and as a team highly organized is still a rush. When you are at the top of your game.
The largest on the road catering job was 10,000 people handed sets of knives, forks, spoons at a Bangor Maine Amway convention.
A big orange truck leased from Cole’s Express, over the road professional tractor squatted under the fifth wheel unit housing all the food for the catered event. Loaded to the gills with all the devices to heat it up, dish it out. Then high tail it back to Aroostook County for the regular food games on the local level.
To run the “Donut Deli”. To cater to the kids from high school that walked down during lunch break for a large fry, small soda for a buck. I remember seeing the weekly habit of after church meaning head to the Parkview Terrace. Ooh and ahhing at the beautiful sweeping staircase that spilled in two directions at the bottom. Before winding northward to the second floor that must of been just as elegant. But signs warning don’t tread at all on these steps kept us on the first level but always wondering what we were missing aloft.
The Houlton Rotary Club also met Monday noon at the Parkview Terrace before the migration to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on the next corner of Main and Winter Street to the east.
A bad accident returning from a big catering job down state caused by falling asleep at the wheel was not a happy moment in the history of the Parkview Terrace.
Lots of locals remembering working for the Cowperthwaite family and if you were a hard laborer, able to be taught the right way to do your job, you could get all the employment you wanted. If you are willful, lazy and just had the wrong dark cloud overhead attitude when someone in the public is demanding this or that with a sharp tone, you got a pink slip. You had to get out if it was too hot in the kitchen.