Friday, January 31, 2020

Business Spotlight: Regional Transportation Program the large white bus with the blue and green lettering “Lakes Region Explorer,” spotted traveling along the Route 302 corridor is a familiar sight, some may be surprised to know about the many service options it delivers. This service is operated by Regional Transportation Program (RTP) and makes designated stops in Bridgton, Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham and Portland.  “In addition to the specific stop areas, The Lakes Region Explorer will also stop anywhere along Route 302, as long as it is a safe place for the rider to board or depart from the bus and does not obstruct traffic flow,” explained Belinda Hutchinson, RTP’s Transportation Supervisor.

A one-way trip costs only $3 while children and senior citizens 65 and older pay $2. Monthly pass discounts are available. The Explorer provides four round trips each weekday along with Saturday service between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The bus is equipped with 24 seats plus accommodations for two wheelchairs, along with a free wi-fi connection for those who need to use their laptops; a bike rack; a GPS tracker system for riders waiting for the bus; and emergency alerts related to delays and weather cancellations.   

The Maine Department of Transportation applies federal transportation funds to support this public service. The five towns served by the Explorer also make annual financial contributions.   

Aside from operating the Explorer, RTP has provided demand/response service with its buses, vans and volunteer drivers for senior, disabled and low-income residents of Cumberland County since 1976. Hutchinson stated that “RTP provides a ‘Shopper Shuttle’ for seniors each Friday morning on a small eight-passenger van that travels from Bridgton to Windham, stopping at places such as Windham’s Walmart, Reny’s and grocery stores.” 

“RTP also provides demand/response services for those who can’t drive themselves,” stated Deb Fritzson, RTP’s Finance Manager.  “In some situations, this requires going to an individual’s home and providing personalized rides for those who require life-saving medical needs such as dialysis and chemotherapy. However, as a non-profit, there are limited resources and funds, and this is where we highly value volunteer drivers, especially in the Lakes Region Area.”

Fritzson continued, “Can you imagine not owning a vehicle, having to go to dialysis or chemotherapy and trying to get yourself to public transportation before and after the appointment. In these circumstances, it could be a matter of life and death. We will be there to help these individuals despite the challenges we face. This is the reason why volunteer drivers are so important to RTP.”

RTP receives many transportation requests to doctor, physical therapy, and other medical appointments on a daily basis from many who are elderly, veterans and those facing an extreme health crisis. As the population continues to age, the requests are increasing. But, unfortunately, volunteerism has plummeted in the past 10 years.  “When I began my role at RTP nine years ago, there were approximately 75 volunteer drivers in RTP’s volunteer driver pool,” Hutchinson said. “Today – there are only 20.”

What many may not know is that volunteering with RTP is easy. An individual gets to set their own schedule, receive free training, gets to choose as few or as many riders as they prefer and how far they wish to travel while receiving a reimbursement rate of 44¢ per mile. “That money can add up,” stated Fritzson. In addition to the reimbursement the volunteers receive, they will immediately see the positive effects of their efforts for a good cause. “Helping those who are most vulnerable is probably the greatest benefit to be a volunteer driver for RTP,” Fritzson said.

Current volunteers have stated that socialization is a key reason why they have joined the RTP team. “One volunteer who retired recently told me he was getting really bored since he stopped working,” Hutchinson said. “He said he likes being around people, and volunteering gives him the opportunity to not only help others, but to help himself. At the end of each day, he feels as if he has accomplished something good, developed a friendship – and best of all – is no longer bored.”

To be a volunteer driver, you must pass a criminal history and DMV check, have had a license in the U.S. for at least five years and drive a safe vehicle. Free training will be provided.  Whether you are retired, a student, or someone looking for a way to give back to their community and want to join the RTP volunteer team, call today 207-615-0393 or email:  For more information about RTP, the Lakes Region Explorer, or other services RTP provides, contact Hutchinson at 207-615-0391 or  Also peruse their website at or find us on Facebook.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Business Spotlight: Elbow Room Bistro"What’s going into the old Bomb Diggity space now that they’ve closed?” “Is that new café/eatery/pub/restaurant open, yet?” These questions have been the fodder and focus of the greater Windham community in the past couple of months. Today – we have the answers:

The Elbow Room Bistro is now occupying the former Bomb Diggity café, located at 781 Roosevelt Trail in Windham. It officially opened on December 18th and is serving high end, specially prepared and chef-inspired cuisine at local prices.

“We’ve had a quiet and slow opening and it has been intentional,” stated owner, Nick Kalogerakis, “My son Luke, who is the chef, and I wanted to take it slow and grow in the most authentic way. We wanted to get it right and have happy customers the minute we opened the door.

When you walk into the former breakfast/lunch café that now serves lunch and dinner, you will be immediately received by welcoming and friendly staff who will promptly accommodate your needs.

Nick, who was born and raised in Massachusetts, began cooking at the age of 17 and moved up the food service industry ladder quickly. Eventually, his father and brother collaborated with Nick, owning a couple restaurants in towns surrounding the Boston area. However, it wasn’t until Nick moved to Florida that he learned to cook in ways he hadn’t been exposed. “It wasn’t until I moved to Florida that I learned how to prepare foods in a variety of traditions as well as learning regional preferences and cultures. This is when I really learned the art of cooking.”

Nick eventually returned to the Northeast, landing in Maine in 2005. He purchased and co-owned Texas Roadhouse in Scarborough for several years before retiring as a business consultant. He now makes Windham his home.

Following in his dad’s footsteps, Chef Luke knew the culinary arts was his calling. He started cooking four-course meals at the age of 13 and, upon graduation from high school attended the prestigious Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island until a cancer diagnosis changed his course in life.

“I always promised Luke that I would help him open a restaurant after he obtained his degree,” Nick explained. “His cancer diagnosis sped up the process.” Nick quickly added that in one more year, Luke will be considered cancer free. “So, when this space became available, we decided to take action.”

Nick stated that the father and son team began experimenting with different dishes inspired by his son until they felt like they got the balance of ingredients just right. “What we serve today are dishes that we have tested and tasted ourselves,” began Nick. “Additionally, every cut of meat is inspected 
individually, and all foods are made from scratch on a daily basis. Everything we serve is fresh.”

In the short time the Elbow Room Bistro has been opened, there have been many happy customers. The many testimonials you will find on Facebook include the following:

“I'm so happy the Elbow Room came to Windham. We've been waiting for ‘the go to place.’ We stopped in for lunch. I had a portabella burger and sampled [my husband’s] fish tacos. Both were delicious, reasonably priced [and not to mention] great staff and ambiance. They have also done a good job with seating given the space. Looking forward to stopping by for dinner next!”

Kevin and Lori Hammond who recently purchased a small farm homestead in Windham and have made this town their home have rave reviews about the bistro. They both lived over 30 years in Portland, and thus have the palate that aligns with TripAdvisor’s top 10 restaurants in the nation (of which Portland was in that top ten).

“Before we moved to Old Orchard Beach three years ago, we were longtime residents of Portland,” began Lori. “While living in Portland, my husband and I were exposed to many upscale restaurants serving high-end foods. So, I must admit, my husband and I – who were both born and raised in rural Maine, have developed the taste for fine foods. When we tried The Elbow Room Bistro, we were ecstatic that there was a restaurant in Windham that served highly selected and chef-inspired cuisine. What makes it even more amazing is their prices are average – while their food is not. We feel like we hit the jackpot with The Elbow Room.”

The fact is, they have been receiving five-star ratings since their opening three weeks ago by the locals in the greater Sebago Lakes Region area. Although both Nick and Luke have worked hard to meet the high ratings they have received since opening, they recognize they couldn’t have done it completely on their own without the help of Derrick, DJ, Susan and the rest of the Elbow Room Bistro team.

If you haven’t tried The Elbow Room, then you should check it out for yourself. Their hours are Sunday through Thursday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and closed on Mondays. For more information or further questions, contact Nick and Luke at, or call 207-572-1039.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Business Spotlight: Karma Hair Studio Karma Hair Studio (recently located to 815 Roosevelt Trail, between The Thai Place and Sticky Bud Farms) stylists Billie Jo Keith and Jeanne Ross treat their customers like family by providing a relaxed professional atmosphere and offering premier “Portland” hair care services at “Windham” prices.

With over 55 years of accumulated experience and five-star reviews, the skilled and educated beauticians are dedicated to transforming their customers’ hair as requested.

“We pride ourselves in listening to what our customers ask of us,” stated Jeanne. “And, if we don’t get it quite right the first time, we ALWAYS encourage people to let us know immediately or come back later so we can tweak as need be. We want happy customers – or what we prefer to call those we serve – ‘family members.’”

In fact, Karma Hair Studio strives for the old-fashioned and small-town community gathering place that was once popularly known and loved over 30 years ago. “We really want to be known as the small-town beauty parlor,” began Billie Jo. “We want our customers to stop by anytime – even just to chat and to be a part of a social and fun community hub.”

A laid-back ambience is so important to both stylists, they bring in their friendly dogs, Mister Bentley, a border collie, and Miss Olivia, a miniature collie, to greet their customers and provide a form of happiness and joy therapy. “They are our official greeters and HR department,” joked Billie Jo (in a semi-serious manner). “Mister Bentley and Miss Olivia really do make our customers relaxed and are a source of fun conversation and laughter…just as you would experience with any other family gathering.”

Jeanne Ross and Billie Jo Keith
Both Billie Jo and Jeanne are committed to constantly learning the latest techniques in order to provide the high-end professional services they offer.

Billie Jo, who has 22 years of experience, is a level five color designer, which is the highest level one can obtain in the color design field. Jeanne, with 33 years of experience, specializes in high-end hair cutting techniques. Together, they can accommodate any haircare request and service that is needed and preferred.

“We offer a complete package of hair care options for the whole family,” stated Billie Jo. “There is nothing Jeanne and I cannot offer. If you ask, we have the experience to provide it. If there is that one in a million chance that we don’t have that experience…we will let you know and suggest other options. That’s how much we care about our customers.”

But what is just as – or perhaps more – important, is Billie Jo and Jeanne strive to provide these services with the knowing it is their calling and mission in life. “I knew from the age of eight or so that I wanted to cut hair,” Jeanne said. “I had a Tiffany Taylor Doll when I was young. I would cut her hair in the latest fashion on one side, and then ‘flip’ her head and shampoo and style her hair on the other side.”

Jeanne was about ten years old at the time and she knew then her vocation ‘when she grew up’ would be in the hair business. “I couldn’t help myself”, Jeanne began.  I would cut Tiffany’s black hair short in the style that was popular of the 1970s and when I would rotate to the blonde side, I would blow and style it as if she was Farrah Fawcett. I knew when I was a young that I wanted to be a hair stylist.”

Billie Jo also knew at an early age that her life’s calling was in all things hair and when she met Jeanne four years ago, they realized they were “kindred spirits” of the hair styling business.
“We provide every service requested of us,” began Billie Jo. “But we do so with the health of our customers in mind.”

Billie Jo explained that many amenities offered at other salons, such as hair straightening and other products, contain cancer causing agents. “Services such as the Brazilian Blowout to straighten an individual’s hair can be detrimental and uses cancer-causing products – not only to the customer receiving the service but to the stylist and everyone who happens to be in the shop that day,” 
explained Billie Jo. “We are very aware of that; we offer services that are pet and health friendly. For example, we only provide Framesi Salon products as they are not only considered a European top of the hair care product line, but the franchise does not test on animals. The other products we use in the shop do not expose the customers to any potential cancer-causing agents or hair care products. We are adamant about that.”

If one peruses their Facebook page, there are many positive testimonials that include such feedback as, “Amazing quality and really good prices for the service! Very inviting and personal!”

Kristy Quatrono has been a customer since Karma Hair Studio opened shop in 2016. “I’ve been their customer for about three years, and I have had the greatest experience,” she began. “I love the girls who run this shop. In fact, I love them personally…but in terms of their business, I love the atmosphere and their professionalism as well as the animal friendly product they offer. They are just all around amazing.”

For more information and to receive laid back and professional service, contact Billie Jo and Jeanne at (207) 892-3526 or message them on Facebook. In fact, ‘like’ their Facebook page today!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Business spotlight: Jonathan Priest, MetLife March 24th, 1868, a company dedicated to providing working-class Americans with financial protection opened its doors for business. Since then, MetLife has helped generations of customers around the world protect their property, finances, families, and futures. In fact, MetLife has been so successful at maintaining their mission and dedication to those they serve, that the company has been recognized in the Top 20 of Newsweek’s most reputable companies across all industries…out of 300 companies nationwide!

Contributing to that success is local and trusted Property and Casualty Specialist, Jonathan Priest. 

Jonathan, whose office is located 57 Tandberg Trail in Windham, works with MetLife to custom-build insurance packages for everyone regardless of where they are in the game of life.

“Anytime you’re making a change is a good time to review insurance,” Jonathan said. Getting a new car, getting married, getting divorced or having a baby are all great reasons to reassess your needs or learn about insurance.

Priest has been working in the banking and insurance industries since he graduated from college with a degree in education. The education degree has served him well in his career because he is able to turn insurance jargon into plain English. “If I could spread one message,” Priest stated, “It would be that Life insurance is never cheaper than right now. Don’t wait. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the rate is less expensive than you think.”  Priest also has life insurance policies available that don’t surcharge for marijuana use. “We are very competitive, and aware of the changing needs and realities of the marketplace.” he said.

Jonathan Priest
MetLife offers many things that other companies don’t, Priest said. When a client has an accident with a rental car, the rental agency will charge the driver for “loss of use” of that vehicle. MetLife covers that charge as part of their standard coverage, where no other insurance companies will! If an all-wheel drive car needs new tires due to a covered loss, MetLife will replace all four tires, as the tires need to be the same outside diameter to prevent damaging the car’s transmission.

When it comes to home insurance, MetLife has the option of uncapped insurance, Priest said. If a house is insured for $500,000, but it will cost $750,000 to rebuild, they will provide the bigger amount. “No one else is actively writing new policies that do that,” he said. Priest likes to work with first-time home buyers because they are like a blank slate. They need protection for a huge investment and need to be educated about which coverage is right for them.

When he meets with clients, he asks the right questions to find out what they need, be it homeowners, auto, disability, life, event or even pet insurance. Priest can also broker through many agencies to find the best policies for his clients. The face to face contact with Priest allows him to make a personal connection. When something happens, the clients call him. “If you have a claim, do you want to be working with someone who doesn’t care or that you’ve never met?” he asked. “I want to make sure you’re getting the coverage you need.”

The claim center for MetLife is in Rhode Island, and Jonathan makes sure to follow up if there is a claim made. “It is always best to check with your agent before filing a claim…one new client of mine had an agent who filed one homeowner’s claim as three different incidents, which got her policy canceled! I was able to save her over a thousand dollars on that policy alone!”  Priest has been able to find savings for many clients, going so far as to say that “More than 8 out of every 10 folks I quote, I am able to save money while maintaining or improving their coverages.”

Jonathan started with MetLife two years ago and hasn’t looked back. He earned recognition as the second-year agent writing the most new business in New England. With 18 years of experience in the insurance game, he knows a good company when he sees it.

He also has many local business owners as clients, all of whom have different, specialized requirements. “I enjoy getting into the commercial side of things, but a lot of personal lines agents do not.” he said.

Priest offers free consultations, reviews and quotes. “If I can’t do better for you, I’ll tell you.”  

He enjoys face to face meetings, but is in and out frequently meeting with clients, so getting in touch with him is best done by phone or email. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the office at 893-8184, message him on Facebook at Jonathan Priest MetLife Auto and Home, or email

Friday, January 3, 2020

Business Spotlight: Bio Organic Market + Juice Bar in the Windham Shopping Plaza at 771 Roosevelt Trail, Bio Organic Market + Juice Bar will be opening the doors to its juice bar on Monday, January 6, with the market to open in the following months. Bio’s promise is to deliver “All Organic All the Time,” sourcing as much as possible from local organic farmers. This is expected to be a welcome and exciting addition to the Sebago Lakes Region.

Fueling the body with high quality food and products is something owner, Charles Hawkins has strived to do since he was young, while inspiring those around him to do the same.

“I grew up eating organic and even back then I recognized the benefits and not because I was told, but because I could see it. I always had more energy than those around me and I never got sick like my friends and classmates. Even as we’ve all aged, I’ve still noticed a difference, especially when I’ve strayed.”

His passion only grew further when he began working with a local organic grocery store in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. “This was the first job I had where I really felt like I was making a difference. I wasn’t just helping the customers. I was helping local farmers, distributors, vitamin companies, and so many more I didn’t know about…all the way down to the individual.” It was during this time of his life he developed the dream of one day opening his own community based organic market.

Hawkins believes when an individual decides to shop organic, it is the responsibility of the store to ensure they are buying the freshest, most honest, clean products possible, a lesson he took from his job in Virginia. That’s why Bio is committed to doing its homework when it comes to the quality of the products entering the store and, in turn, the customer’s home.

“It’s not just about the look and taste of the products,” he said, “It’s about how it’s grown, harvested and stored before it comes through our doors. If we don’t do our due diligence, there is no guarantee our product standards and those of our customers are being met. This is where a lot of grocery stores and markets fall through.”

He continued “As insufficient regulations emerged, and stores became accustomed to carrying more products with labels containing ‘fresh’ or ‘natural’ the meaning of organic in your everyday grocery stores has been lost.” Bio plans to bring real, fresh organic choices back to the Sebago Lakes Region.
As with his other Windham business, Maine’s Alternative Caring, Hawkins also has plans to use Bio as a means to do good in the local communities it serves, ultimately allowing Bio customers to do the same. “Just by making the choice to buy local and organic products people are already taking steps to improve the local community,” stated Hawkins. “Even one juice from the juice bar gives back. It gives back to the farmer who raised the fruits and vegetables for it, the employee who picked them, the driver who delivered them and the employee that made that one juice.”

In the last year and a half, Hawkins has frequently given back to the Sebago Lakes Region through Maine’s Alternative Caring, with monthly donations, fundraisers and scholarship programs. It’s his hope that Bio will allow him to give even more back through charitable giving, donations and educational programs aimed towards leading a healthy lifestyle while learning about nutrition.

Bio also has plans to go a step further to get involved and be socially engaged with the Sebago Lakes Region by hosting events and being a leading supporter of causes that align with the company’s mission and core values in an effort to not only give back, but bring real change.

Through shopping with Bio Organic Market + Juice Bar, customers will not only get to be part of something bigger with the charitable and giving spirit of the store, but they will be taking part in enriching our community on multiple levels.

“I really am so grateful for the opportunities Windham has given me, and I am beyond excited to give back in a way that I am passionate about,” said Hawkins. “Our team can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.”

Bio Organic Market + Juice Bar is a cannabis free company and will be open to the public on January 6. For more information visit or find them on Facebook.