The Working Waterfront

Restaurant reboot: Islesford Dock ready for another 20 years

Bar Harbor’s Michael Boland’s island venture retains ‘soul’

Laurie Schreiber
Posted 2018-09-04
Last Modified 2018-09-04

At the Islesford Dock Restaurant & Gallery on Little Cranberry Island, co-owner Michael Boland is deep into his second season enjoying the unique nature of an island institution.

“I love restaurants in general. I enjoy the interaction with the guests,” he said in an email interview. “It’s a pretty intimate thing, feeding people. And when you have a restaurant like the Islesford Dock, that’s been doing it so well for so long, that in and of itself is special. Combine that with the number of guests who have a deep history with the place, including celebrating special occasions, the specialness of being on an island, and the crew we have, and it’s an amazing place.”

Boland is the owner of popular Bar Harbor restaurants Havana and Choco-Latte. He and Mitchell Rales, a Maryland businessman and Mount Desert Island summer resident, purchased the Islesford Dock in January 2017 from Cynthia and Dan Leif, who had owned it more than 20 years.

“I had thought about the restaurant over the years, knowing the Liefs had been doing it for a long time and would most likely put it up for sale at some point,” Boland wrote. “But it wasn’t a major plan of mine. It really did arise suddenly for my partner and me.”

Overall, the Liefs, with immense help from Islesford resident Courtney Chaplin, did a great job keeping the restaurant up-to-date, wrote Boland. But at the time of purchase, it needed work. That included some roofing, new pilings, raising the back floor and installing oak flooring, redesigning and enlarging the bar, renovating the bathrooms, and other work. 

Boland said he’s proud of the renovation.

“We could have easily botched it up and made it too fancy,” he said. “But guest after guest has told us we nailed it—repaired what needed to be repaired but kept the ‘soul’ of the place.”

Boland handles management, receiving expert advice from Rales. He said he’s proud of Chef Emily Damon, General Manager Georgia Howland, and 50 employees overall for their hard work. He’s expanded the season and hours, operating this year May 31 to Columbus Day weekend. He buys lobster from the next-door Cranberry Isles Fishermans’ Co-Op, oysters almost exclusively from Glidden Point in Edgecomb, and chicken from Maine organic producers; the restaurant has its own greenhouse and garden.

Running an island restaurant is no different than running one on the mainland, he said, except for the logistics and higher cost of bringing foodstuffs, and artwork shown in the adjacent gallery, over by boat and getting waste and recyclables off. 

“In so many ways, an island is a great place to more closely examine what we really need, what the cost is of getting it, and what the cost is of getting rid of it,” he wrote.

Even without advertising, the restaurant attracts, well, “Everyone,” wrote Boland. That includes year-round and summer residents of the Cranberry Isles and MDI. “We really strive to treat all our guests with the same respect—whether they’re a gazillionaire from NYC or a local clammer from Hancock bringing the family down for a day.”