Saturday, February 28, 2015

Business Spotlight - Swift River Roasters - By Michelle Libby

Coffee aficionados can tell when coffee is good. They know what they like and they will return time and time again for the right blend. 
Swift River Roasters in Raymond listens to their customers and creates blends, roasts and flavored coffees based on that feedback. The roasting started five years ago by local couple Linda and Walt Manchester. The beans are mostly sold as whole bean in bags, but some, like the flavored coffees are pre-ground. Customers can also grind their own bags in their flagship store, The Good Life Market on Route 302 in Raymond. Coffee is roasted fresh to order every week, which equal between 200 pounds in the winter to 400 or 500 pounds in the summer.

Ian Ballingall is the head roaster at Swift River Roasters. It’s his job to determine how long to roast the beans, to flavor the beans when needed and to generally keep the coffee flowing through the production and onto the store shelves.

The beans, about 25 pounds at a time, are gas heated as they are roasted for 15 minutes on average. They are then cooled on a cooling tray that blows air up from the bottom while the beans are being stirred. Because of the small batches, Ballingall is able to keep things very consistent with each roast.

The beans come from all over the world. They do fair trade beans from Honduras and Indian Monsoon Malabar beans that are left out during the rainy season. The coffee beans come in on pallets containing 1,300 to 1,500 pounds of beans. 

What makes the coffee stand out in flavor? “The quality of the beans we start with and keeping things moving, not having them sit around much,” said Ballingall. “We are very responsive to our customers.” The half café roast was created because of customer requests, he added. Ballingall and the Manchesters do lots of training, read lots of books and then get hands on experience in coffee roasting to make their coffee the best. 

Opening the coffee roasters came out of necessity. The Good Life Market was having trouble finding a reputable coffee distributer, so they cut out the middle man and started making their own.  
The flavored coffees are also made in the Swift River Roasters production plant. From vanilla and hazelnut to Jamaican Me Crazy, which smells like maple syrup, they have close to 40 varieties ranging from dark to light roasts and decaffeinated blends as well. 

This week Swift River Roasters celebrates its fifth anniversary. To celebrate they are putting out a blonde roast. It does not have a name yet, so Linda and Walt have decided to host a contest to name the blonde roast, which is described as lively and fresh with nutty tones. 

“We want to get everybody involved,” Linda said. To enter your name in the contest, visit the store. The winner will get one bag of coffee a month for a year. At the store there will also be coffee tastings and small promotions throughout the month of February. 

“I always interface with the customers to get direct feedback. We have grown with our customers,” said Ballingall. “We’ve had a very positive response.” 
When the company turned two years old, they created an Anniversary Roast, which became such a popular blend, that they kept it. At four years, they created an Italian Roast (dark). 

They also create special roasts for private labels to be sold for fundraisers like Project Graduation, or for other organizations. “We design the labels for them,” said Linda.

One of the goals for the company is to have an online presence. They have some wholesale accounts and ship across the country for those who have tried the coffee in the summer and can’t live without it year round. 

The quality coffee is competitively priced at $9.99 per pound and can be purchased either at The Good Life Market or at seven area businesses (see ad below for list of dealers).
For more about Swift River Roasters email or call the store at 655-1196. They are also on Facebook.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Business spotlight on Dena's Lobster House & Tavern - By Michelle Libby

From the moment you walk into Dena’s you know something’s different. The nice décor, the welcoming greeting and the scents of tasty dishes draw you into the lobster house and tavern. 
Dena Withey worked in the restaurant business for 17 years before being approached about managing a new establishment owned by Ken Ray. The new place, near the North Windham Post Office, would replace Club 302, which had been mismanaged and had to be shut down. 

“We were looking for a place,” said Withey. “This was a bigger opportunity.” She admits that she had to clean it up a lot, but with new paint, a new dining room with twinkle lights and artwork done by one of the bartenders, the atmosphere became family-friendly. Dena’s Lobster House & Tavern was born.

“Rather than a club, we focus on families,” said Withey. “We can entertain kids to seniors. We’re not one thing. I think there’s enough here to cover every age.” 

While waiting for a table or dinner, diners can shoot free pool or play in the small arcade hidden near the entrance, but away from diners. 

The menu has something for all tastes. Seafood…they serve a lobster, shrimp, scallop pasta with Alfredo or garlic butter sauce that is a big hit. Dena’s also serves crab legs, one of the only places around that does. Seafood, like lobsters, steamers, fish, comes fresh from the waterfront almost daily. 

Although lobster is in the name, Dena’s Lobster House & Tavern is not all seafood. In fact, the most popular dish is Hickory char-crusted NY strip steak. Withey said that when that went on the menu, they sold out. And if prime rib is a must have, Dena’s has it every night of the week.

From soup and fresh salad bar, to brownie sundaes, strawberry shortcake and cheesecakes, diners are covered from start to finish. 

Dena’s Lobster House & Tavern has been open since August 1st. Their hours have been Tuesday through Sunday opening at 11 a.m. and closing at 11 p.m. They are considering opening on Mondays this spring. On Friday and Saturdays, Dena’s stays open until 1 a.m. because they provide live entertainment in their back reception room, called the Roosevelt Room. Every Friday and Saturday night bands are booked year round from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Withey’s goal for Dena’s is to “be here a while to see it succeed.” The restaurant is family run and of the 11 employees, none were carried over from the old establishment. 

The building is divided up so that the dining room is separated from the pool tables, arcade and bar, but is also easily accessible. 
“The restaurant is huge to this building, rather than the bar and pool hall,” Withey said. There is a full bar and a second bar in the Roosevelt Room. Motor Booty has played there and Riot Act will be the featured Valentine’s Day act. There is an ATM on site and a TouchTune music player that uses an app to purchase and play music keeps the atmosphere exciting on that side of the business. 

In the spring, Withey is considering starting a “mug club” where patrons pay to be in the club and they get special deals when using their “mug”. 

The Roosevelt Room is open for rent for private parties, weddings, retirement parties or Christmas parties.

“We’re a family run business, good food, friendly staff and customers,” Withey concluded.   

Dena’s Lobster House & Tavern can be found on Facebook as can a copy of the menu and a list of entertainment. They are located in the North Windham Shopping Center at 765 Roosevelt Trail. The phone number is 892-1302. They are also in the Portland Dine Around Club. 

On February 15th, Dena’s is hosting a “Food Fight”, a fundraiser for the Windham clothes and food pantries with a cooking challenge from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Participants are asked to bring in their best food dish to be judged. Stop by Dena’s for more information.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Business Spotlight - Sebago Lake Automotive

Sebago Lake Automotive has a long, storied history in the lakes region and this family owned business takes what they do seriously, ready to help the customers with whatever they need. Co-owners and brothers Mitch Woodbrey, who handles the service department, and Brad Woodbrey, who handles the sales end of the business, have been a part of the Sebago region for all of their lives. 
“They are a local business that powered through the recession. A third generation dealership, they lost the GM franchise and survived in spite of it,” said sales agent Mike Fitzgibbons. 

From World War II when there were no cars to sell to height of car sales just before the housing crash, Sebago Lake Automotive has continued doing what they do best, selling and servicing cars. Their dedication to the industry has left them with many loyal customers who return again and again to purchase cars from the Woodbreys. 

“We have all of your automotive and transportation needs,” said Brad. Brad’s philosophy on selling cars is simple. “Sell them cars and make them happy.”

The cars at Sebago Lake Automotive have all been checked and have a good Auto Check. The inexpensive, yet quality cars start at $7,000. Trucks and SUVs are some of the more popular items and they start in the low $20,000s. Most of the vehicles are between two and eight years old. 
The sales department is low key and not high pressure. They will help you find a car that matches what you are looking for and what your needs are. If they don’t have it on the lot, they will try to find it for you through their channels. 

They also offer financing through area banks and take trade ins. The trend right now is to purchase small SUVs and trucks, but the trends are always changing, Brad added. 

The original Sebago Lake Garage opened in 1920 under the ownership of Mitch and Brad’s grandfather and the grandfather’s brother. They were asked to be a franchise of Chevrolet in 1928. Through war time and into the 1970s Mitch and Brad’s father owned a fleet of buses that took children to school and drove people into Portland and South Portland to the docks. 

In 1984, they opened the newest location at 847 Roosevelt Trail and have been there for 30 years and have seen a variety of cars come across their lot. 

There are 23 employees including those in the service department at Sebago Lake Automotive. They have a great body shop, a well-stocked parts department, a thorough service department, which includes detailing. They are especially well versed in GM cars. 

The service department is well known for quality work that fixes issues the first time and fixes them right. 

“Mitch is not afraid to be hands on,” said Fitzgibbons. 

The service department has a high level of quality control using AC Delco parts, GM parts and Fisher Plow parts as well as lots of after-market brands to fix all makes and models of cars, trucks and SUVs. They do specialize in GMC because of their history with the company. The service department offers loaner cars while cars are being repaired. The body shop is knowledgeable in all aspects of body collision repairs and works with insurance companies. 

“We specialize in fixing things that are hard,” Mitch said. 

The five technicians in the service department have over 120 years of combined experience. Mitch himself has 31 years on the job. 

“We give a personal level of service. We talk with them and find out what they need, and what they can afford,” said Brad. 

Last year, Sebago Lake Automotive became a UHaul rental agency and also went into business with Hertz car rental as a new service to their customers.  

The hours of operation are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The sales department is open online at

“We can keep them on the road with a car that can give them a good ride,” Brad said.