Radio Maine Episode 32: Stephanie Brown

Stephanie Brown understands that food and family are foundational elements of a life well-lived. Trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, her professional pursuits are the continuation of a personal legacy reflected in memories of homemade pasta drying in the bedroom of her grandparents’ four story walk-up in Boston’s North End.  Her decades-long career encompasses a love for food and people that has most recently manifested in co-ownership of North 43 Bistro in South Portland, Maine. Stephanie is beloved for the joy she brings to catered events, from intimate weddings to corporate events--not to mention pre-COVID art openings at the Portland Art Gallery.  Learn more about Stephanie’s commitment to building community through breaking bread on this episode of Radio Maine.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello, I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to, or watching Radio Maine. Today I have with me chef/owner of North 43 Bistro, she also happens to be a friend of mine, Stephanie Brown. And I would say she's a co-owner of this business, and it’s one that she's put a lot of time and effort into. Is that true? 

Stephanie Brown:

Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here. I do own the business with Laura Argitis, my business partner, who also owns Old Port Sea Grill. So we have taken this journey together. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

This is a journey you've been on for quite a while, as a chef in the field, as we say.

Stephanie Brown:

So well over 30 years at this point, yes. I've been culinarily involved since high school. I've been in jobs that involve food in some way, shape or form, and obviously being a part of a large Italian family at birth you're part of food and celebration. So that's where the love interest came. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Where'd you grow up? 

Stephanie Brown:

I grew up in Massachusetts. I was raised in a town called Westford and I then moved to the city of Boston and started my career right out of culinary school from there and had traveled to California and worked in Colorado and traveled overseas, not to work, but to explore culinary adventures as well. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So talk to me about this large Italian family. I come from a large, Irish, Catholic, French family. So not exactly the same neck of the woods, but close. 

Stephanie Brown:

Very close. Yes, food is the heart of the family.  My mother was born in the North End of Boston in a four story walk-up and my grandfather had the swing sets on the roof and the preserves of vegetables and fruit in the stairwell. And every Sunday, the pasta would be laid out on the master bedroom on a sheet to dry for Sunday supper. My grandmother would lower the basket down the window with a little money in it for my mother to get bread at the local bakery. So it was definitely an iconic time for them. And when they moved out of the city and the grandchildren came, even before then, there was so much celebration around food. My grandfather was ahead of his time and had a beautiful,  professional grill installed in the basement of his home. And as a kid, I just thought it was normal to have grilled lamb chops in the dead of winter. So it's just been a huge part of our family for celebration and for everything. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

How did your parents meet? 

Stephanie Brown:

My dad went to Christopher Columbus High School and they met in the North End. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You and I also happen to have an island connection out here. You live on Cousins Island. I live on Littlejohn Island and your family has a house across the street from ours. 

Stephanie Brown:

Yes. So I've been coming out to Littlejohn since I was two years old. So we have a very strong Maine connection. And when I wanted to open my first restaurant, for whatever reason, I said it has to be in Yarmouth, Maine, because I knew if I opened in Boston, I would never be able to get away for the summer. And I felt like if I was working in Maine, I'd be able to at least enjoy family in summer while I was working. And that was the connection of me opening Seagrass Bistro in 2005. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That was how you and I originally met. I believe back years ago, many years ago, we had a mutual friend and acquaintance, and she learned that my daughter was interested in cooking. And she said, I have this great friend and maybe we should connect them. And that is actually when you and Abby first got to know one another. 

Stephanie Brown:

Abby was actually kind of helping me with the pups for a little bit while I was transitioning and moving out here. And we just had one of those heart to heart talks and her passion for food came through. And I said, “why don't you come try it?” And lo and behold, here she is three years later and just doing a phenomenal job and has worked herself up to the ranks. And she's now our sous chef and leading the team brightly with amazing creations. So she's very, very talented and we're so excited to have her to be a part of the team. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I am very glad that Abby is working with you. And I honestly couldn't think of someone that would be a better fit because you're probably one of the hardest working people I know. You put your heart and soul into things and you just work a lot. 

Stephanie Brown:

I do. I'm a very hard worker, but I'm very passionate. I feel that I can't ask something of someone else if I'm not willing to do it myself.  I take pride in everything that happens at work. So therefore I really want to make sure that I'm there for the customer or the employee, whatever,  on the whole to represent and be a support system. But I come to work with a small ego because I allow my team to culinarily create. I'm not intimidated by what they bring to the table or something new. And I don't feel they need to cook what I want them to cook. I feel it's an amazing collaboration of creativity and artistry. And why would I stifle somebody when I know that they can create? 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You also have formal training as a chef. You learned sort of from a practical standpoint, but you also had the information that you needed to get into this in a really professional way. 

Stephanie Brown:

Yes, I have a bachelor's degree in business finance and business human resources, and then I had taken a year off. And then I went to culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America for an associates degree. And so I learned my culinary professional training there, and then proceeded to dive into the hotel scene and worked with a lot of European chefs at five star, five diamond properties. So the squeeze bottle, tweezer, petals, flowers, microgreens, sauces, and, you know, extravagant proteins. I had a beautiful luxury of learning in that arena and did it for many, many years, and then pulled myself out to be in front of the house. So I knew I wanted to open a restaurant someday and worked at another amazing property and became the assistant director of catering sales and learned how to book events. So fortunately for me, that's all come into play here at this new restaurant because we have a second level that we use to do that. So I can anticipate what the guests need and execute these events from a sales perspective, as well as a culinary one. And it's a nice package to have in your repertoire that I think some chefs don't have that exposure to because they start out in small restaurants and they just excel in the small restaurant arena. And when you have that event background, it does kind of change things a little bit. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It has been very important for you to branch out in different directions in order to maintain a position of strength through COVID. 

Stephanie Brown:

Absolutely. You have to very much think outside of the box and try to navigate a plan of attack to be creative in generating revenue, keeping your team alive, because that's the most important thing right now is keeping the team that you have and sustaining that through all these ups and downs. So right now I'm in the process of planning the winter and planning the fall and looking at types of events that we can do to navigate that so that we can sustain ourselves through these challenging times that lie ahead with the next round of whatever might happen.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

 It's been an interesting and bumpy and much longer road than most of us had thought. 

Stephanie Brown:

It definitely has. My business partner and I say all the time, this is the hardest we've ever had to work in a sense that we're dealing with so much more emotional than we are dealing with business, practical, and culinary.  We have shifted gears in the way we perceive our business and the customer is very important to us, but our emotional and mental wellbeing of our team is priority every single day. And there's always dialogue and conversations around nurturing that because the climate of the demographic of people that are dining has changed and the demands have changed. And we want to make sure that everybody is taken care of through these challenging times. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You’re in an interesting intersection, because when people come to see you, they're probably feeling like they've been somehow stuck in their houses for a while. They really want a celebration. They want to go back to a normal life.  And their expectations are probably fairly high, and you're dealing with people who have worked through a big chunk of this, also worked through the summer months,  and also have their own personal and emotional needs. And, they've done a great job. And also, you know, you have fewer staff than you might want. You're dealing with a lot of different things. So how do you meet the high expectations of people who are coming into the restaurant with people who have really put a lot of time and effort into staying emotionally well-balanced?

Stephanie Brown:

It's all about balancing.  The first thing I learned, I've always been a big component of this in general, to manage my business, but more so now this year than any year is the word no, and no, meaning this is the cap we're going to do tonight for business. We're not gonna take any more. This is what I know the team can handle. This is what we can do to make sure every person that walks through the door can get the best experience that they have and not over push ourselves, just because it's there. That doesn't mean it should be taken.  It's a global decision on the wellbeing of the servers, the culinary team, the amount of food that we have and the overall guest experience, even with all that cautionary action that's taken, that doesn't mean someone's not gonna walk away with a bad experience or a mistake that might've happened. 

Stephanie Brown:

We found that a lot of feedback that comes back online is things that are, not that they're unimportant to the customer, but they're more remedial on the global acts of our staff, talking about the music that's playing, isn't the greatest or talking about, you know, an event that was upstairs. It was a celebration that was, you know, how could they do that? So how about how was the food, or how was your server,  those things, that to me are a little bit more important. So you really have to create a balance as a leader to navigate what is important, what you want to absorb, what you want to take seriously, and your attitude coming into the team and making sure we've got this, we're going to be amazing. You really have to have that mantra that you appreciate and value everybody, but also give them a voice. And this is the first time I actually had to articulate “you all have a voice”, not that they didn't before, but I think this year, especially, they need to know that they do. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So in giving them a voice, what types of things have you been hearing? 

Stephanie Brown:

It could be anything it could be, I'm really tired today, or this customer just rattled my cage today, or,  I'm feeling stressed because I don't think I have enough product or I need help with that, I need help with execution. All these different things that will affect somebody's psyche in the fluidity of the day, they have to have that. They have to be able to articulate how they're feeling more so now than ever before. So there's that support system to say, I got this, we got it. We're going to be fine. Oh, you know what? We're troubled with that. Let's take it off our plate. We're not going to do it. Let's eliminate it. And all of a sudden you have that aha moment. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It's interesting because even though you and I work in very different fields, in many ways, they're quite similar. Healthcare is very patient driven and there's often,  especially during COVID, there have been a lot of situations where people come into our office, they're very stressed. We have staff, that's very stressed.  We get patient complaints about things like I don't like the fact that your parking lot doesn't have enough sand on the sidewalk, and you just think to yourself, wow, we're really doing the best we can to keep everybody healthy here. And, we really do want to do what's best for everybody. And sometimes we're not going to be able to make everybody happy all the time. 

Stephanie Brown:

It's definitely a tough pill to swallow because that's what you're in business for is to make everybody happy. And to say, well you know what, today might be the day we're not going to make everybody happy. It has nothing to do with how hard you're working and what foot that you're putting forward. It's just the reality. And we really have to be selective of how much we hold on to and how much we don't hold onto to carry us through this. And I'm really good about articulating, let that go. I'm not worried about it. Let that go. You're amazing. You're doing a great job. Let that go. So we had a customer that wrote on the back of their receipt about their server and it said some not nice things. And the server was devastated. And I said, well, I'm not worried about that. I said that was very cowardly. They had an opportunity all through dinner to have a conversation with you when you checked in with them. And here we are. And now you're left holding the bag. I said you’re amazing. We’re great. Did you have an issue? Maybe, but there’s no reason to take that to heart because I think that's pretty cowardly and that's unfair to you. So let's look at the big picture and you had a great day and we have to let that go and I don't condone the behavior. And I think they appreciate that permission. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And I think that you're, you're absolutely right. Sometimes there are things that are going on with people that you couldn't possibly fathom. You know, we have this in our profession and healthcare, you know, people come in and we think we're just talking about their, let's say their hypertension, their high blood pressure. And what's really going on. What's really causing their blood pressure to go up is that their aunt died. Their cat is sick. You know, there's just a lot happening. And sometimes before they even get to me as a physician, they're already having challenges with our staff because of how something that the staff person said to them made them feel bad. There was something that just didn't sit right. And it's often good to kind of go back and think, well, you know what, it's not something to take personally, because if somebody's cat is sick or their aunt died, you know, that's not on you. That's not something you can do anything about. All you can do is just kind of try to be as open and understanding as possible and not take things personally and not escalate them into something that they really don't need to be,  escalated into, I guess. 

Stephanie Brown:

And I think that I have learned so much this year, just really putting in effort, working really hard to put myself on a perch, to put everything in front of me so you can see it versus being in it and not being able to see it, if that makes sense so that you can navigate where everybody's at and get a backstory or what is going on, or hear the chatter of the staff of something going on, whether it's somebody coming to visit, or they just went traveling to, you know, at a lake in Maine and now they're tired or whatever the story is. And then use that to say, okay, oh my gosh, you did? Why don’t you come in late tomorrow because I think that would be helpful. And using that, that's what I mean by having that voice. If we hear these stories of what's going on in their personal life, we can help navigate the work-life a little bit better and give that balance of, okay, yes, you get to leave early today or want and have that support system for each other. 

Stephanie Brown:

And the more we talk about where we are in our personal life, not in depth, but just saying where we might be struggling, we can help make the work life a little bit easier and less stressful because they were all there to help each other support that situation. And it's nice to have that dialogue. And some of the servers especially have come to me and said, I've never been in a place where I was allowed to have a voice to talk about how I feel about money or whatever it is, scheduling or whatever. And I said, why? You need money to live. It's a very healthy thing to talk about. And if that's going to stress you out during the day and you're holding it in, what fun is that? I'm not saying that all the answers are going to be yes, but it's great to have a conversation about it and meet in the middle. And it's amazing how articulated the team has become in that arena, which is really nice. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I think that you in your field more than perhaps other fields, I mean, you kind of have to do that in order to succeed. Because there's such a blur between work and life. I mean, there's just, especially in the summertime in Maine, people work all the time. So there's, you know, you have to be able to make work good because that is your life in the summer in Maine and hospitality. 

Stephanie Brown:

You really have to put forth this level of balance. And I try to strive that there are times where we're all going to need to work extra hard this particular week or this particular weekend or whatever it is. But that doesn't mean it's the mantra for all the time. And it is a piece that unfortunately, because we are struggling with labor so much, that it's a really hard balance to create when you're trying to push, push, push, because you have a small window of opportunity to capture the financials of the summer. Some of it's not worth it. And you have to be able to say, what is worth it? Where does this strength lie, where am I going to be? What risks am I willing to take? How far am I willing to push the team? And sometimes it's a collaborative effort and you put it out there and you see where we all are and you rally everybody up and they're in on it and we're going to do it. 

Stephanie Brown:

It's going to be amazing. But then you also gauge, and you can see where we are and you're like, you know what? We're good, we're good. Nope. I'm okay. I know I need to stop that, that piece of business as much as I'd love it, isn't going to be good for the health and the wellbeing of the team. And you have to look at it that way.  It's a new way of thinking. I think it's really hard for us as restaurant owners. We're up against so much with capacity, shortages of food, shortages of labor, people saying that people don't get paid enough in the industry. There's so much around there outside of work that's getting fed into everybody's ears for this minutiae that you are already coming to work, feeling very suffocated and to kind of let all that go and show that you're valued, supported, and financially taken care of is a big deal. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, it's interesting because we started this conversation talking about why you got into this and kind of food is life. And the idea of having the pasta drying on the racks in the family home. And I do think that you're describing something that is the more nitty gritty daily life aspect of things. And also, as part of the work that you do, you've been able to do a lot of celebrations. You've been able to, you know, there's always that day to day stuff that we all kind of slog through to get to the other side.  But you do weddings. You do, you know, retirement parties, you go to events and you really make things special. You really,  with the work that you do at North 43, you're able to enable people to take a step back and say, okay, this is good. Life actually is really good. We have things to celebrate. And we were going to have a glass of wine and an appetizer and talk with our sister that we haven't seen in a long time.  I would think that would feel pretty special. 

Stephanie Brown:

Absolutely. I mean, I always tell the client, you know, you're going to look back on this day and this is the restaurant that's going to be in the memory bank. We celebrated mom's x birthday, or we had our wedding here, rehearsal dinner there, or whatever it is, we've had the journey of the good and the bad with people. So celebrating their joyous moments and celebrating their sad moments and having them come back to us because they found comfort with us that they can have a celebration of life with us. And how intimate is that?  It's pretty special. And I don't think about those things after really. I just, in the moment when I'm talking to the client, I just know that that's supposed to be really important and special, and I want it to go down being that way. And my staff takes exceptional pride in doing these events as well and being a part of them. 

Stephanie Brown:

And it also shakes it up for them because instead of going to the five or 10 customers they might have in the hour, they have this amazing group of people that are there to celebrate and be joyous. And it shakes that, you know, mundane serving thing up a little bit and to something a little different. And so it's nice to have that variety. Absolutely. And I get great pride in doing that. And I have a great skill set to do it, to use the space that is so beautiful. It makes it very easy to make that happen. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You're located literally right on the water. Like you could throw a rock and hit the water in south Portland. I mean, that is a great location. 

Stephanie Brown:

We're very fortunate to have such an amazing location and to be a part of this amazing arena. And, you know, the Susi family who owns the building, which we lease from could not be more supportive of who we are and what we are trying to do. And we have such an amazing clientele of regulars that love coming in and when you know their name and we know what they like, and it's just, it's family. And we have had the fortunate capacity to be at a personal level with some of these people, whether it is with the celebration of a wedding and engagement, a birthday, a tragedy we've extended ourselves into that level. And it becomes really intimate and we really enjoy it. And the staff enjoy seeing these people too, because it's so personal. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And North 43, the name itself actually references your location.

Stephanie Brown:

Correct our coordinates, which is wonderful. So it was tough to decide what kind of a name to put, because we didn't want to say that we were a seafood restaurant on the water. We have all different types of cuisine. So we thought we'd find something neutral. And, my business partner's husband actually came up with the name. So we were like, yep, we're in, it's done. Something to check off our list that we liked. So it was great. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

This is one of the things that my husband and I really enjoy doing more kind of pre COVID. We haven't done it as much lately, but that is to hop on our boat from Littlejohn Island, kind of jaunt out across the ocean, through Casco Bay, land over at the marina, and then go and have lunch on your deck. I mean, it's very special. There just aren't that many places that you can do that in the state of Maine or really anywhere. 

Stephanie Brown:

It's really quite lovely that we have that. The Susi’s have been very generous about allowing boats to come to dock, to dine with us and finding spots for the boats to stay, you know, free of charge. And they make it very convenient for a lunch or a dinner. And we've been fortunate enough to be on a lot of destinations of people's daytime or evening plans by boat. And you can just see how much fun they're having when they're walking up the dock and they're getting ready to come in. And it's fun. We really enjoy having that.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

 I was also fortunate enough to bring our wedding ferry over to the marina. We got married and we had our celebration. My husband and I actually we're about at our anniversary a few years ago, it's coming up.  And then we all in our wedding attire walked down the dock and went over to North 43 and we actually had the most wonderful wedding reception. So, I mean, there's something pretty unforgettable about that. 

Stephanie Brown:

Thank you. It was a very special day. That was a very, very special day for the staff and myself included to be a part of that. And it's a lovely place to have those types of celebrations. And, you know, I always tell people when they book their event, that I put the good weather order in already for them. So to hold off the rain and it's, you know, we have a wedding coming up tomorrow and I've been on the phone with the mother of the bride all week and she's just overjoyed. She just can't wait. It's just like talking to a child at Christmas. They just get so excited and so much has been taken care of for them that they have very little worry when they walk through the doors that we've put the list together and checked all the things off. So there's nothing, there's no stone left unturned and they can enjoy and be present. And that's our most important thing that we try to sell when you have something like that is for you to be present. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

One of the things that I think about a lot is when my husband and I got married, our family had just gone through something pretty significant, something pretty devastating, and it was hard for he and I to kind of, I mean, we knew we loved each other. We knew that we wanted to get married, but it was hard to kind of climb out of our sadness and our devastation and the tragedy of the moment and really put together this celebration. And, you were like, no, we're going to make this happen. You know, we're, we're going to do this and we're going to do it and it's going to be great. And it took a lot because I remember sitting in conversations with you and with my husband and just almost being unable to talk because I was like just comatose with sadness and, I so appreciated your willingness to make it balanced and good and sell it and celebratory, and you kind of took care of it and you brought us all to this great level and you would just not, you were not going to let us have a bad wedding. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You were not going to let that happen. And I think that for me, I go back to that summer and, those challenges, and I think, you know, that is kind of the epitome of what I appreciate about what you do and what you do in hospitality that is just making something really beautiful out of something that could potentially go in a really different direction. 

Stephanie Brown:

Well, I'm just a firm believer that, you know, we’re all on a journey. We all have our roads and every road has, you know, either a bump or a pothole or a crater, but there's a road on the other side. And these craters, bumps, and potholes don't define who we are. It's just a moment in time and life is too short to omit the celebrations and the acknowledgement of family and love. And, you know, the fact that we have a capacity to gather, we're very fortunate to be one in this state, but also just in this country and have that luxury. And if we can use food as a vehicle to enhance the gathering, that's great. And if it gives us an opportunity, when you walk through the doors of the restaurant to put all that other stuff aside, just for that moment, even, or moving forward on your journey, great, that's what it's about. 

Stephanie Brown:

And I just believe it's such an important thing. And I look at it as I've had challenges in my life and I've had my shares of potholes and craters, and I treat people how I would want to be taken care of and nurtured and comforted and allowed to just be, because then it brings you, like you said, to that point of gathering and saying, you know what? We are allowed to have this. This is okay. Let me celebrate what I have. My family, my love, my friends, whatever it is. It's huge. So I appreciate you sharing that. Thank you. It's a big deal. It brought a little tear to my eye. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I know I was actually feeling tearful too. And it's a hard thing to have shared for me in particular, because I actually think I do have a very good life, you know? So sometimes they think when you have a very good life, it's hard to share the deep pain. And so you kind of will tuck it away and say, no, no, you know, in my case, I work with patients and there are so many more terrible, terrible stories of things that have happened that just sometimes it's easier to minimize what goes on. That is a huge deal, but is it as big a deal as somebody else's, I don't know, car accident, cancer, or, you know, any of the other things. 

Stephanie Brown:

It's a big deal in our lives, what we're going through, it's a big deal to us and it's okay to acknowledge that it doesn't define us, but it's okay to take that moment. And I can say that, I can say, you know what, I'm, you know, a chef of this amazing restaurant with a business partner that is nothing but steadfast and strong in our relationship to navigate this and have a great team, but yes, you know what? We don't have a dishwasher today and this really, really stinks. And okay, this customer got mad at that, and this is awful. And why can't we be like such and such restaurant. They're getting all these accolades and they're in the paper and the magazine and, you know, I could easily say that, but at the end of the day, that's just having a bad day, but I know how fortunate I am to have all these amazing things, but I've worked very hard for everything that I have, but it's okay to acknowledge the tough times, because if you don't, it's not healthy. And then the monster comes out. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's true. It's not like if you don't talk about it, things go away. They just kind of get stuck in some crevice somewhere. And then someday they just back out at you.

Stephanie Brown:

You're like, who was that? Exactly. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Exactly. Yes. I thought I was over that. I guess I wasn’t really.

Stephanie Brown:

Right. Going back to thatanswer, the cat that's sick. It's that same thing for us, right? Yes. And I think it's, you know, I'm proud of what I do and proud of who I am. I'm proud of how hard I work. I'm proud of my family and the support of my friends and the team that I have. And every day isn't going to be the same, every day isn't going to be, you know, perfume and flowers. It's just not, but that doesn't mean it's a bad journey. It just means it's exciting. And I have learned to really just try to come in with a great attitude and work hard. And that's my mantra. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I think the other similarity that you and I share is that we both are responsible for lots of people. So, you know, we both came from big families. We took care of our family members. We're still taking care of our family members, to some extent, taking care of our staff.  You know, I take care of my patients. You take care of your customers. And sometimes it's easy to feel like, oh, this is just a lot of caretaking for everybody else with me. But I also know that you and I try to take care of ourselves, that we both enjoy where we live. We both go running around or walking around the islands where we are. That self care and self preservation and appreciation of life are very important on a regular basis. 

Stephanie Brown:

Very much so. There are weeks that come by and I'll feel so exhausted, but it wasn't because of culinary work or physical labor. It was because of the mental and emotional work that went into the day or the week that can just fatigue me more because there's so many, as, you know, being a doctor, there's so much care that comes out of that and to give of yourself. And that nurturing moment is a lot and then navigate everything else in front of you and manage a team. So those can be some of my most exhausting weeks where I'm just like, okay, just let me get out the door with one less crisis so I can go home and just regroup. And I have my oasis.  My life is very private. I don't socialize with my staff. I have no problem being there for them in the four walls of the restaurant, but it's to me, boundaries that I've set to take care of myself and the family and friends that I've surrounded myself with are very indulging to rejuvenate. I feel so fortunate about that and they may not get what I do on a day-to-day basis. And I kinda like that. It's nice to know that my friends are not in the industry. They dine at the restaurant and are familiar with restaurants, but it's nice to know that I can turn that piece of myself off and just be me. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And that is another way that I think you and I are similar is just making the home a bit of a refuge and understanding how important that is.

Stephanie Brown:

It is. It's so important. My business partner, and I will talk every day. We do a lot of personal dialogue and then there's a lot of work dialogue and it's amazing how you can go in and out of those conversations because we live it and breathe it every day which makes our relationship so strong. But when you're with people who aren't in the industry, you can't talk about it. So it's great. And it is just a piece of oasis, like you said, that I hold very dear to my heart, you know, with my family and friends in the space that I'm in here. It's just so perfect and precious to me. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I can't let the conversation end without talking about your own appreciation of art, because of course, Radio Maine has been about creativity and art and primarily artists. And you actually have brought artists over to North 43. You've done dinners so that you understand that, while food is very important to happiness and to life, art has its place as well. It's different, they're both artistry of a sort I think. What caused you to make that decision to incorporate art into the work that you do with the restaurants? 

Stephanie Brown:

When I had Seagrass Bistro, I also had worked with local artists and hung up their work and, you know, kind of honored them in what they do and celebrate their creativity.  My brother is a phenomenal artist, phenomenal, and with his kids back in the day, the stuff they have today is so different, but everyone would go outside and play. One of the things we would do is we would draw, and we always had paper and colored pencils and all these amazing things to draw with or paint or whatever. And it was just an expression of what we did, and his artwork was always phenomenal. And so I've always had this appreciation because of what he was able to do with a vehicle, whether it was a crayon, a pen, a marker, and what I was able to do. 

Stephanie Brown:

And when I see art, I get very excited. And even as a kid, I remember coming up here as a young kid and going to the clam festival and going and looking at the art and there’s just something about it. It tells a story, it puts you in that place. It gives you an opportunity to stand and look at something and see what it's like to be there, or be in that moment. And I find that to be very personal and very special. So I always have had this little nook in my soul for someone who can take that creativity and put it on a canvas or on paper, where I put it in a dish, on a plate. And I can remember when I had no money and I opened sea grass, and I made my own tables. And I said you know, the tables are the frame, the plates are the canvas, and the food is the art. And I feel that every artist goes into their creation with some of that mantra of the canvas or the paper or whatever they use for their vehicle. And I love that. I can relate to it. I’m envious of how talented they are, probably the same way someone feels about what I do. It just takes you away. When I go to your gallery, I'm like focus. I have to focus. I'm here for a reason. I have to focus, but I'm like, oh, look at that painting. Oh, look at that painting. And I love it takes you away the way it should. I think that's what it's supposed to do. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. I feel the same way. It's hard for me to go into the Portland Art Gallery and not come away, wanting to buy everything in there. And obviously that's never going to be possible. 

Stephanie Brown:

I don't have a wall that's big enough for that. But I love it. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I know. I agree. And you know, and I like your idea of the story. And the reason that we have this piece behind us today is this is a Laurie Hadlock  piece. I actually met Laurie Hadlock many years ago. She's a friend of Carol Bass who's one of our artists. This piece was something that my husband owned before I even met him. He didn't know that I knew Laurie and I didn't know that this was a Laurie Hadlock piece. And then when we got together and here we are, we have this beautiful, beautiful piece and fast forward a few years and Laurie actually passed away. And her husband and her children asked for this piece and other pieces back. So they could have a celebration of life in their barn. And, you know, really kind of focused on the beautiful things that she had managed to accomplish in her life. So when I think about the work you do and the work that artists do, I kind of put it all in the same place, then it's all,  understanding one another’s stories, celebrating one another's lives. And, just being there for the good times and the bad. 

Stephanie Brown:

I totally agree. It's a piece of the fabric of our quilt that makes us who we are, that we have this little tale to tell whether it's on paper or on a plate or whatever.  I think it's important. What you do here with these podcasts is the same thing. It's part of the fabric, which I love and being a part of. So thank you so much again, for including me as part of the thread.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Part of the thread that will keep on going. We hope for quite a while. I've been speaking with Stephanie Brown. She is the chef/owner and a co-owner I should say, of North 43 in South Portland, obviously just a beautiful place as you might've gotten from our conversation to have lunch or dinner anytime of the year, really, but especially in the summertime. So I encourage you to go over there and have a meal and see if you can find her. She'll be busy no doubt, wandering around, but getting all her work done. She's a busy lady, but it's been a great opportunity for us to have this conversation with Stephanie Brown on Radio Maine. I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you. 

Stephanie Brown:

Thank you.