Friday, August 30, 2019

Business Spotlight: Gem Lounge Jewelry, LLC

By Lorraine Glowczak

There are many things that make Gem Lounge Jewelry, located at 1263 Roosevelt Trail in Raymond a fashionable Maine jewelry and other locally made gifts such has handbags, t-shirts, and journals but its commitment to the burgeoning eco-friendly movement has made waves beyond the Lakes Region area.
unique retail jewelry shop that stands out among the rest. Not only is the store filled with

Upon entering the Raymond store, one will find beautifully hand-crafted vegan leather jewelry with designs that all feature genuine metals, gemstones, cork and more and are made with sustainable and recycled supplies and packaging. “The result is beautiful artisan designs that you can feel great about wearing,” stated Owner and Jewelry Maker Extraordinaire, Melissa Evans.

So, what is cork? Cork is generated from the bark of cork oak trees. The bark is stripped from the trees every nine to 12 years to make sure that the trees are not over stripped. The stripping does not damage the tree itself and allows the tree to grow to over 200 years old. 

Over 85% of the world's cork comes from Portugal, which is where Gem Lounge Jewelry source the materials for their designs. What is created is a great sustainable product which unlike traditional leather designs, uses no animal products to produce. 

Melissa Evans
Gem Lounge Jewelry prefers to use cork in their designs as the benefits include an eco-friendly alternative to leather, it is hypoallergenic, and best of all, water-resistant. The idea and concept came from her younger sister. “When my sister turned 15, she started a vegan diet,” began Melissa. “She challenged me to make her a vegan leather bracelet. I rose to her challenge and that is where our cork designs were born.”

Melissa went on to explain that one of her realizations regarding eco-conscious jewelry and handbags was that it would put her in the forefront of an important movement. “The plant-based direction we are embracing is more than fad-based, it’s a movement that is gaining momentum and will not be disappearing anytime soon,” she said.

That’s not the only movement Gem Lounge Jewelry supports. Over 90 percent of the products sold are Maine made. Buying and selling local products is Melissa’s mission. In fact, apart from going away to college in New Orleans at Loyola University where she lived for four years to obtain a degree in Political Science and Marketing, Melissa herself is local.

“I grew up here in the Lakes Region, first living in Gray and then moving to Casco until I was 17 when I moved to New Orleans,” she explained. “I now live right here in Raymond, just a few miles from the store. I’m an eighth generation Mainer. I am about as local as one can get.”

Prior to finding her role as entrepreneur and jewelry maker, Melissa worked in a variety of professional roles in highly regarded Southern Maine companies that put her in an office setting. “I eventually realized the cubicle life wasn’t for me,” she said.

First using jewelry and handbag making as a creative outlet from her “day job”, she realized she needed to make the shift in order to be fulfilled in life. She made the transition from her office work to crafting her business ten years ago and it has been growing ever since – supplying her fashionable Maine jewelry and other locally made gifts to over 90 store locations across the U.S.

Melissa and her business, Gem Lounge Jewelry, caught the eye of the Portland Press Herald where she was highlighted for her unique style. She was also interviewed by Channel Eight news. The exposure increased awareness about her unique vegan-based focus, creating an expansion of her business in Southern Maine and beyond. It was at that moment she realized she needed to go from a homebased business to a storefront.

“It wasn’t until a man who drove from Berwick to Windham at the address where I have my PO Box at the Windham UPS store that I realized I needed to take the next step and have a physical location to sell my jewelry and handbags,” Melissa said. “It was around Valentine’s Day and the man had driven a total 2 ½ hour round trip to purchase a piece of jewelry for his wife. He called to ask me where I was located. He and his wife had seen me on television and his wife was very interested in what I had to offer. When he called from the Windham UPS store, I asked him what he was looking for. I met him at the Hannaford parking lot with the piece of jewelry his wife wanted. He went home with the gift he had in mind.”

Other similar incidents continued to occur. As a result, on June 29, 2019 she purchased the former Essentials store location and now has a storefront to display her unique locally inspired and eco-conscious jewelry, handbags and other gifts at 1263 Roosevelt Trail in Raymond. Gem Lounge Jewelry is opened seven days a week. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, peruse the website at or call Melissa at 207-302-0009.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Business Spotlight: The Schoolhouse Learning Center, LLC Lorraine Glowczak

Preparing students for life in a flexible, yet ordered, environment where walls exist but do not confine the learner is one of the many approaches The Schoolhouse Learning Center, LLC takes to contribute to the growth and happiness of a child. Located at 421 Roosevelt Trail in Windham, the newly established preschool that was once the home of Seavey’s Appliance store, is under construction and will be open for business prior to the 2019-2020 school year.

“Our educational philosophy and program are designed to prepare students cognitively, socially and emotionally,” began Owner and Director, Kara Piattoni. “We do this by creating a sense of community where kindness and life skills, such as listening and following directions, are taught through an exploration method. Although we have rooms for each age group, we encourage the children to explore outside of the classroom walls in a variety of ways with the intent to engage with all children and teachers in a structured manner.”

Piattoni went on to explain that preschool education is so much more than learning your ABCs. It’s about adaptation to life’s situations - being emotionally, socially and cognitively ready for the next step in school, community and life. The Schoolhouse Learning Center’s approach to obtain this goal is through structured, hands-on experiences in a variety of specific skill related activities and classroom settings.

“We will have a movement room where students learn to connect concepts to action and learn through trial and error,” Piattoni said. “We also have a tinker room that will serve as a children’s workshop and will include a variety of arts and craft tools for skill building experiences.”

There will also be a learning library space that will include not only books for students, but the space will be used for quiet time and for teachers and students to work alongside each other on a one to one basis. 

“But what I’m most excited about, coming from a family of restaurant owners and chefs, is our kitchen. The kitchen will feature a teachable space, giving students the opportunity to make snacks for their friends here. They will learn simple math, how to measure, and how to work in cooperation with one another. We will also host guests who are experts in the culinary field for demonstrations.”

Perhaps more importantly, the students will learn the importance of food and its role in life. “In Sweden, all children learn how to cook at a young age and studies have indicated that they grow up to have a healthy relationship with food as a result,” explained Piattoni

Kara Piattoni
Piattoni’s experience and passion has gained a following of parents who have already enrolled their students in the school to be opened this fall. Jess and Todd, parents of children who were taught and lead by Piatonni state this on The Schoolhouse Learning Center Facebook page. “We were lucky enough to have had Kara teach our daughter and our son for a few years while they were daycare age through preschool. She is an amazing teacher who truly cares for all the kids and helps educate them by learning in fun, creative ways.  We are excited to know she will continue to help other children with their development and education through the School House Learning Center! You will be lucky to have your child enrolled here.”

Additionally, Piattoni has gained a following from former coworkers in the field as well. “People I’ve worked with in the past have called and are excited to work alongside with me again,” she said. “I have hired many of them because I know their work ethic and I can honestly say I work with people I know, trust and am confident to teach the children in this school, preparing them in a way they will succeed.”

The Schoolhouse Learning Center accepts infants and children, beginning at 6 weeks to 12 years old. Before and after school programs are available with transportation provided by the RSU14 bus system to and from the Windham schools. Hours are from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information or to enroll your child, contact Kara Piattoni at 207-894-4152,  via the preschool’s Facebook page or the website at Mail completed application packets to: PO Box 788, Westbrook ME 04098.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Business Spotlight: Aging Excellence Abbey Davies, Owner

Aging Excellence is Maine's premier in home non-medical agency. The mission of our company is to
help our clients stay independent, active and in their own homes. Aging Excellence began in 1999 long before this was the popular industry to get into and our track record speaks for itself. We pride ourselves on hiring exceptional caregivers that are reliable, intelligent and passionate about their jobs.

Our caregivers range from retired businesspeople, nurses, moms and students. Our oldest employee is in their 80's and our youngest is 18. Aging Excellence remains unique in offering our clients a one hour minimum and our caregivers are well taken care of with highly competitive pay, paid time off, benefits, a SIMPLE plan and the most important benefit; a flexible schedule.

At Aging Excellence our services include Aging Life Care Professionals who assist with medications, doctor appointments, advocacy and evaluation of competency and/or Personal Support Specialists (PSS) who are able to assist our clients with hands on needs such as showering, toileting, dressing, transfers and respite time for loved ones. 

All of our PSS caregivers are certified, and Aging Excellence is registered with the State of Maine as a PSS company so we will only send in a caregiver trained to care for the client’s needs. The Social Companions can assist with transportation, meal preparation, light housekeeping, pet care and socialization. Our handyman is able to assist our clients with any home maintenance needs. All caregivers attend 10 hours of Habilitation Training as presented by the Alzheimer's Association and we have ongoing training to help caregivers meet the changing needs of clients. 

I personally got involved at Aging Excellence around 2001 when I was doing the monthly bookkeeping for Beth Lawrence, the founder of Aging Excellence and at the time, the owner of the Portland office. Beth and I hit it off and although I had no real experience in health care, I bought the Portland franchise of Aging Excellence in 2005. Later that year the Saco office became available and I purchased that office too. Some years later the opportunity to purchase Bangor came up and because of my love for what we do, I jumped on it! This is the most rewarding work you will ever do. Every day you make a significant difference in the life of another person - how can that not be rewarding?
Every day is a learning experience and I am continually amazed by the wonderful caregivers we have and the extent they will go to for the benefit of our clients.

As the older population continues to grow, we have more and more inquires for our services. Many older Mainers want to stay in their own home as long as possible and our company’s mission is to make that happen. It is not always necessary for an older person to go to a facility and with increasing demand there are not enough independent, assisted or skilled beds available in Maine. 

So that is where we step in - maybe your parent or loved one needs a little time in the morning to get dressed, in the afternoon for lunch or the evening for dinner; maybe they just need someone to help with grocery shopping and sweeping the floor; maybe they can't shower on their own....we can do all of that and more. Maybe you're being pulled by the need to help your parents but raise your children (this is now known as the Oreo Generation); maybe you're exhausted by the demands of a loved one with dementia; maybe you want to go away for the weekend but can't.....we can help with all of that and more.

Additionally, if you are looking for a rewarding job that meets your need to serve and help others or perhaps you are looking for a part time flexible job that will allow you the freedom to care for your family but also earn a living? At Aging Excellence we have employees that work 10 hours a week to individuals who work full time and more. As an employee, you can feel good about the paycheck you receive and there is no special training required just a compassionate heart.

I recently attended the funeral of a client we assisted 24/7 for a couple of years and the daughter said that without Aging Excellence she would not have been able to grant her mom’s wish of aging and dying at home. That's the difference we make!

To learn more about Aging Excellence, either as a client or as an employee, contact us at: 866-771-0991 or

Friday, August 9, 2019

Business Spotlight: Eagle Sushi and Steakhouse Lorraine Glowczak

It has been the talk of the town, or perhaps more of a question posed to each other in the community:
“Do you know when the new sushi place on Route 302 in Windham will open?”

The answer is that Eagle Sushi and Steakhouse, 818 Roosevelt Trail, opened Thursday July 25, and is serving Japanese sushi and Teppanyaki style meals. The word on the street now? It was very much worth the wait.

“It took us awhile to find the right contractors and get everything together just as we had envisioned,” stated Tinky, who manages the restaurant with her husband and Sushi Chef, Gordon.

Tinky and Gordon are from New York City and they met while working together at a sushi restaurant.

After marriage, they agreed they wanted to continue their career in sushi cuisine with the goal of managing their own restaurant. “My sister, [Fiona], is a Chief Design Officer and entrepreneur in the hospitality industry,” began Gordon. “We put our visions together with Fiona, who is the owner, to offer the best sushi in the Lakes Region area.

Why Windham? “It was the big beautiful lake that brought us here,” Gordon said. “We are learning to enjoy the quiet.” Gordon and Tinky make their home in both Windham and NYC.

The newly updated space that once was the home of D’Angelo’s, holds the sun’s warmth that bounces from the ceilings made of wood. People were enjoying lunch at tables along the windows as well as a couple sitting at one of the Teppanyaki grills in the late afternoon while I sat down to talk to Tinky and Gordon.

Opened for almost two weeks at the time of this interview, Tinky stated that one young customer has already visited six times. “Each time she comes, she brings members of her family and friends. We have also had other repeat customers.”

What keeps people coming back? “We make a lot from scratch. We steam our ramen noodles in real pork bone broth and there are no artificial flavorings. We make our own homemade house dressing that we put on the house salad.” This is only the beginning.

What makes them stand out among the many sushi restaurants in the area who also serve hibachi-style food is the more realistic Teppanyaki experience of Japan. According to an upscale sushi restaurant in Manhassett, New York, “In the U.S., the phrase “hibachi-style” is occasionally used to refer to what is really teppanyaki cooking. Hibachi grills are small, portable barbecue grills that are made from cast iron. Modern hibachis in U.S. restaurants are electric so that they can be used to cook food indoors. By contrast, teppanyaki grilling involves using an iron griddle with a flat, solid surface to prepare the food and the heat source is propane.”

Gordon pointed out that the exhaust goes down below and behind the griddle as opposed toward the ceiling. “This prevents you and your clothes from smelling like grilled food when you leave the restaurant,” Tinky added.

Teppanyaki is also more personal, allowing only two to four people around the grill for a more private experience. There are, however, teppanyaki grills to accommodate six to eight people at a time.

I rarely mix business with pleasure. However, when my admittedly snobbish, sushi loving husband took the day off from work to finish a project on our home, discovered that I had an interview with Eagle Sushi and Steakhouse, he begged to join me.

As I was waiting for him to meet me, the couple sitting at the two person Teppanyaki grill when I first walked in was finished with their meal. After introducing myself, I asked them about their experience.

“We love hibachi food and we eat it wherever and whenever we can,” began Julia Burns of Windham who was with her boyfriend, Stearns Wallingford of Raymond. “And to be quite honest, this is by far this best hibachi food we’ve ever had.”

Our experience? We ordered and shared the house salad with the homemade salad dressing, gyoza (pan fried dumplings – we chose pork over shrimp), tuna tartare, a Tiger Roll and Dragon Roll. I had the small Miso Soup while my husband ordered the House Miso Soup (with the biggest chunks of seafood imaginable.)

My husband and I agreed with Julia Burns and Stearns Wallingford. “This is by far the best sushi experience we’ve ever had. It rivals sushi bars in Portland.” It truly was worth the wait!

For more information or to order online for take-out, go to or visit them on Facebook page.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Business Spotlight: The Playhouse Child Care Center Lorraine Glowczak

Preschools and early childhood education centers provide an environment for children to explore; gaining social, intellectual and self-confidence skills. Realizing the important contributing factors to their child’s success, parents strive to find the best child care, but it is not always an easy feat. Often there are many hurdles to overcome: long waitlists and center hours that often conflict with work schedules. The Playhouse Child Care Center, located at 322 West Gray Road in Gray (with a Westbrook Location coming soon) is about to change all of that.

“As a grandparent, I began to see how difficult it was for my grandchildren to get into the highest quality preschools,” stated John F. Chase, owner of The Playhouse. “I wanted to do something to offer my own grandchildren as well as to all other young folks in the Lakes Region community, a high-quality child care center without the long wait.”

Also the owner of Chase Custom Homes and Finance in Westbrook, Chase reached out to a 15 year veteran in the early childhood business, Ashley Moulton, whose lifelong dream matched the mission of Chase.

Moulton, who will act as District Manager of the Gray (and eventually the Westbrook) location, stated that child care has been a passion of hers since she was a young girl. “Helping children begin the foundation to a successful life is something I’ve always dreamed of - and as an adult working with young children, working in this field has been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”

According to the parent handbook, The Playhouse’s mission is to provide a safe, healthy and nurturing environment for every child. Their philosophy is simple: allow children to learn through play. “At the Playhouse, children follow a formal curriculum, enhanced by meaningful play, which promotes the development of independence, creative thinking, healthy bodies, self-discipline, problem solving, and self-confidence. We realize that children are constantly learning through structure as well as play.”

The play-based, hands-on programs will engage children in several ways that includes music and movement classes, yoga, sign language, arts and craft projects and more. All programs will motivate children to become involved in a variety of captivating and fun play-based activities, all the while learning very important skills that will prepare for their future and educational career.

“Every child learns and grows differently,” Moulton stated. “We support and guide each child as an individual with a variety of programs from which they can choose and focus on what engages them the most. We also offer an outdoor classroom where children of all ages will be able to explore and learn together. While keeping with the play-based theme, we also want to prepare them for Kindergarten.”

As a result, The Playhouse will adhere to and follow the State of Maine Early Childhood Educational Curriculum Standards. “We want each child to be prepared for a smooth transition into the school system,” Moulton said. “We will follow the standards and curriculum guidelines by the state and will do so in a hands-on and fun way.”

Parents have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to child care and who to entrust with their little ones. “We understand this is a very personal decision, so we are hiring staff with only strong backgrounds and many years of experience in child care,” Moulton said. “Our lead teachers have degrees in early childhood education and assistant teachers will work towards earning a degree while taking continuing education classes. We will support our staff in paying for ongoing training and education.”

Safety is another factor on parents’ minds. They want to know their child will be loved, nurtured and most of all, safe during the day. “Security has been of the utmost importance in the building renovations and design,” Moulton said. “Every family will have a key code and all classrooms will have cameras for security and safety purposes.”

The Playhouse Child Care Center, “Where Learning and Play Come Together,” will be opening soon and is now enrolling children from six weeks to five years old. Slots are filling fast! To learn more and find out about upcoming open house dates, visit their website at and the Facebook page.

To request an enrollment packet for your child, contact District Manager, Ashley Moulton by email The Playhouse Child Care is still accepting applications for early childhood educators and infant teachers.  <