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Jonathan's Restaurant - VisitingNewEngland small business partnership

Why Jonathan's Restaurant is an Essential Part of the Ogunquit, Maine Experience

Jonathan's slogan has always been to eat well, but the joy goes well beyond the food


Jonathan West, owner of Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Jonathan West, owner of Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit. Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

Article by Eric Hurwitz, @newenglandinfo. Story created on 10/5/2019.

When seeking an outstanding place to dine out in Ogunquit, Maine, the best option would be to go home.

Specifically, Jonathan West's home.

This isn't just any old home, however. It's a restaurant possessing a long and wonderful history that epitomizes the small business American Dream. Back in 1976, Jonathan purchased his parents' home and transformed the 2,800 sq ft. structure eventually into a 12,000 sq. ft. restaurant -- one of the largest in Maine.

Front of Jonathan's Restaurant, Ogunquit, Maine.
Approaching Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit.

His homey restaurant possesses visual delights virtually every step of the way. The renovations and personal care of the property would make HGTV design and renovation experts proud including a large entertainment venue room upstairs, a 600-gallon fish tank, cozy dining rooms with an upscale-meets-casual flair, a contemporary lounge, meeting rooms and beautifully developed, sprawling colorful gardens outside. Jonathan's wife, Carol, has the magic green thumb in the family, expertly maintaining and enhancing the beautiful outdoor spaces at Jonathan's.

Dining room by the gardens at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Dining by gardens at Jonathan's Restaurant.

Additionally, Jonathan is a curator of local art with 250-plus paintings and drawings saturating the restaurant walls. It is like walking into an art museum (it isn't) but one with food aromas that eventually lead to mouthwatering diverse cuisines to die for.

Main lobby at Jonanthan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Cozy entrance room, many paintings.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

Music plays a significant role in the appeal of Jonathan's Restaurant.
Famous singers who have performed here include Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, The Indigo Girls, The Irish Rovers, the late Laura Nyro and Leon Russell, Jonathan Edwards, George Winston, Marty Stuart and Tiny Tim. Comedians Lenny Clarke, Paula Poundstone and Bob Marley have also performed here.

Arlo Guthrie performs at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Arlo Guthrie sings at Jonathan's. Photo credit: Reg Bennett.

Music is an important part of Jonathan's life, and that is why he started entertainment at the restaurant many years ago. The artists he sees performing, however, draw a significant and critical parallel to what Jonathan does at his restaurant. Jonathan understands that the artists' loving hand can be applied to professions beyond drawing and singing. Chefs can also create forms of art, too.

"You have to be in this business for all the right reasons," said Jonathan. "How can you be a singer and not know how to write a good song? The same applies with cooking. How can you be a chef and not know how to cook? I have this passion for cooking and have made it my life."

Maine seafood pasta dinner from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Maine seafood pasta.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

When a House Becomes a Home...and a Restaurant

Jonathan's Restaurant, Ogunquit, ME.
Walking the steps to Jonathan's Restaurant.


Jonathan's house is a very, very, very fine house, as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young once sang -- even with its expansions. One step into the main entrance creates an instant welcoming feeling. It feels like walking into a family member's home for a nice home-cooked meal and conversation.

That is exactly what happens at Jonathan's with Jonathan, Carol, children Caitlan Etchevers, George and Caraboo and two nephews (JB and Alex Bidirian) all involved with the operation. A biologically non-related staff comes across, too, like being part of the family. Everyone is so warm, personable, caring and attentive here -- perhaps more than some family members you know.

Jonathan comes across to his staff as an inspiration, mentor and friend.

"I've worked here for several years," said Max Potvin, a North Berwick native who left home for a while to seek career opportunity but came back to find a job he truly enjoys. "I could have worked in a cubicle somewhere but this is where I like to be. Jonathan is great to work for. He cares about us and those who dine here. He creates amazing food. It makes a huge difference, having someone like him to work for."

Jonathan clearly has a passion for food, but also for people.

"You're at my home," said Jonathan, of his restaurant. "I want you to come back. I want your children and grandchildren to come back. I want you to enjoy food that is delicious and recognizable, read the menu and know what you are eating. That is what we are all about here."

Quaint dining room at Jonathan's Restaurant, Ogunquit, Maine.
Quaint dining room.

Locals and vacationers have taken notice, often in lines, to enjoy this one-of-a-kind restaurant. The media has also caught on with myriad positive stories and reviews. More than 900 reviews on
TripAdvisor
yield a 4.5 star average for Jonathan's Restaurant. Yankee Magazine mentioned Jonathan's in its Favorite Things to Do in Ogunquit, Maine story (March 26, 2017) and as a best place in New England for dinner and a show. The Maine Restaurant Association named Jonathan as the Maine Restaurateur of the Year in 2017. The list of accolades goes on and on, a testimony to Jonathan who traveled a long and winding road to find his passion. While that road involved discovering a whole new world overseas, Jonathan ultimately became worldly while staying close to home in Ogunquit for the majority of his blessed life.

Jonathan, 69, took a different career route, achieving great success by initially bypassing college and traveling Europe on his own in the late 1960s. He also gained valuable business experience running a lobster shack at Perkins Cove in Ogunquit for 10 years.


The experiences overseas provided a life-changing experience for Jonathan although he didn't fully realize it at the time.

"I was there for two winters," said Jonathan. "I learned how to eat and drink. I fell in love with French food, Greek food, German food, Austrian food, Italian food. I learned how to cook there. I realized that I wanted to be in the food business. I found a passion. I don't know if you ever know your passion ahead of time, you just find it through experience. I found out I have a passion for food, art and people."


Jonathan, no doubt, also had the hospitality bug in his DNA with generations of West family members owning hotels, bars and restaurants in the area for more than 80 years
. His great grandfather owned a hotel. When he died, his grandma took it over and then eventually Jonathan's dad. 

Jonathan's parents had moved to a home on Bourne Lane in Ogunquit in 1964 and stayed there 10 years until they put the home up for sale.

"It wasn't selling so I leased it," said Jonathan. "And that's how things happened. That's where I started Jonathan's and it is in the same location to this very day."

Jonathan's Restaurant: Built for the 21st Century

For convenience sake, Jonathan's could be called a casual upscale dining experience, but it has far more depth than that restaurant bumper sticker slogan. Jonathan's can't really be compared to any other restaurants because Jonathan has put his own unique stamp on the restaurant largely by combining the wonders of coastal Maine cuisine with European flourishes.

He was also ahead of the curve locally during the 1970s serving foods like avocados and oysters when virtually no one else was doing this. In the 21st century, Jonathan embraces diverse cuisine styles. He especially loves to incorporate French cuisine touches into the food but also knows the value of the familiar like a nice cup of chowder or bisque or a wood-fired grilled steak.

Wood grilled steak from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine
Grilled New York sirloin with fresh greens and mashed potatoes.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

Lobster bisque and clam chowder from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
New England clam chowder and lobster bisque. Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

That simplicity also transcends to the homemade breads with blueberry honey butter first brought out to the table...

Homemade breads with blueberry honey butter from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Breads with blueberry honey butter.

Appetizers like the artichoke hearts are filling and delicious enough to stand alone as a meal but, ultimately, a great precursor to the main course...

Artichoke hearts from Jonathan's Restaurant, Ogunquit, Maine.
Artichoke hearts from Jonathan's Restaurant.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

And there's certainly no "squid pro quo" when it comes to the calamari -- the customer can enjoy these fried morsels sourced straight from the local seas at a fair price. It can be prepared as Rhode Island Spicy Calamari with pickles and spicy aioli or as Sweet Calamari tossed in a sweet chili sauce.

Calamari from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Mouthwatering calamari.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

As a foundation to his culinary creations, Jonathan knows the value of farm-to-table cuisine. He, in fact, was farm-to-table before farm to table was cool. To call his food just farm-to-table would be an injustice, however. Food sourced from all the major food groups is technically all farm--to-table. So, that food could come from a farm in California and be shipped all the way to Maine, thus resulting in a potentially less fresh food. Jonathan, on the other hand, has his own 12-acre farm in South Berwick, Maine, not too far from Jonathan's.

Jonathan West, Owner of Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine, has his own farm that supplies the restaurant with fresh produce and lamb.
Jonathan at his farm in South Berwick. Photo, courtesy of Jonathan's Restaurant.

Everything Jonathan raises at the farm is organic including apples, blueberries, blackberries, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, beets, squash, gourds lettuces and other greens, rhubarbs, basil, eggs and lamb. A look at the colorful plant life just a few miles from the restaurant proves that produce picked fresh from the ground makes a big difference in the quality of the produce that ends up at the restaurant.

Beets from Jonathan West's farm that sources his restaurant Jonathan's in Ogunquit, Maine.
Beets from Jonathan's farm. Photo, courtesy of Jonathan's Restaurant.

Customers reap the benefit of that local responsible farming in many different expressions, including this salad...

Fresh salad from Jonathan's in Ogunquit, Maine.
Fresh salad straight from the nearby farm. Included: a pinch bowl with sea salt and coarse ground pepper.

"Yeah, farm-to-table, I've done that for 43 years," said Jonathan, with a smile.

Jonathan likes the term, "locavore" better than farm-to-table, as that word generally connotes food sourcing within 50 miles of a business.

"There are some exceptions, like the bleu cheese, which is from Rhode Island," said Jonathan. "But that's still in New England."

Maine and seafood are synonymous, so Jonathan offers some fabulous local dishes right off the boat that include, of course, Maine Lobster...

Maine lobster from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Maine lobster dinner.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

Then there are the Taunton Bay Oysters, also from coastal Maine...

Taunton Bay Maine oysters from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Oysters. Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

He also prioritizes sustainable-raised fish including the salmon that comes from the Bay of Maine.

"It's delicious," said Jonathan, of the salmon. "it's raised in cold water. The taste is better. You won't find any caged farm fish here."


The swordfish special takes on a delightful twist. It is prepared in a piccata style, breaded and pan fried and cooked perfectly to keep the moisture in.  Capers, lemon beurre, blanc, mashed potatoes and maple carrots lend further balance and substance to this phenomenal dish.

Swordfish piccata from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Swordfish piccata with carrots and mashed potatoes.

"Swordfish dry is horrible," said Jonathan. "Swordfish moist is great. It's that simple. Making the swordfish this way keeps that moisture in. We think it's delicious."

For those adults who like to imbibe, Jonathan's offers an impressive list of brews (many local), wines and cocktails.

Many customers rationalize the need for homemade desserts, even if the substantial main course servings leave little room for anything else. The chocolate mousse is a favorite...

Chocolate mousse from Jonathan's in Ogunquit, Maine
Chocolate mousse.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

And mouthwatering, warming gems like the blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream burst with such fabulous flavor that it's tempting to order another one...

Bleuberry crisp from Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Homemade blueberry crisp for dessert.

Jonathan's Restaurant Atmosphere: Sweet Harmony, Every Square Foot

Candleit tables at Jonathan's Restaurant, Ogunquit, Maine.
Candlelit tables, wonderful ambiance.

Jonathan's does possess an upscale element but don't mistake that for any kind of attitude or snobbery. It is the type of place for dinner where you don't have to worry about using the wrong fork. Jonathan's acts like a best friend that you hold in the highest regard. It is a restaurant born with a humble nature, gratitude, hard work ethic and an appreciation for people and hearty, genuine food. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree and within that regard, the tone that Jonathan sets by example resonates through to his employees. In this day of age where the country is so divided, spending time at Jonathan's Restaurant is like a temporary utopia shielded from the harsher elements of the world. Simply put, it's a really nice place to be.

Ultimately, Jonathan's features an unpretentious atmosphere but still can be an ideal, romantic candlelit date night out destination. On the other hand, just about every walk of life finds Jonathan's a perfect side dish or main entree to the Ogunquit
experience -- one of the northeast's most beautiful coastal towns with so many memorable things to see and do. Like Ogunquit, Jonathan's welcomes everyone.

"I have pretty much been here my whole life," said Jonathan. "We used to have two grocery stores, two hardware shops, a pharmacy and not a whole lot more. It has grown quite a bit. We have grown a lot, too. But Ogunquit is still a beautiful place to be. And our restaurant still remains a place people enjoy. I think we keep getting better. Although some people find it serendipitously, most know (Jonathan's) as a destination. Just like Ogunquit."


Jonathan's Restaurant can be a dream spot for a wedding with nice spaces inside and idyllic settings outside...

Wedding at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Wedding scene. Photo, courtesy of Jonathan's Restaurant.

A grand union takes place at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit,Maine.
Enjoying the great outdoors at Jonathan's.
Photo, courtesy of Jonathan's Restaurant.

It's a place to enjoy live music in the large upstairs entertainment venue room...

Folk music legend Judy Collins performing at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Folk music legend Judy Collins performs at Jonathan's. Photo credit: Reg Bennett.

Or serve a dining space that kids of all ages can enjoy, courtesy of that 600-gallon aquarium...

600 gallon aquarium at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Big, comfortable dining space with aquarium at Jonathan's.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

Jonathan's can just be a spot to just hang out in the lounge and talk about the day, politics, sports or anything else that comes to mind. It is kind of like the Cheers of Ogunquit in this bar area...

Lounge area at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.
Lounge at Jonathan's.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

Jonathan has not only created a "build it and they will come" small business but a "build it and they will come together" destination. There's a big difference between the two: Jonathan is far more interested in creating an authentic restaurant with a sense of community rather than just another business with a mission to make money.

"I believe in people first, money second," said Jonathan. "Being in good company, that's what it's all about. I love seeing our customers and working together with staff. You also have to be current and relevant but keep what people want, too. There are some things we will never take off the menu. But we are creative, always trying new things."

Conclusion

Pasta dish from Jonathan's in Ogunquit, Maine
Wild Mushroom Pappardelle.
Photo credit: Lauryn Hottinger.

At 69, Jonathan is in no rush to retire. It seems like he is eternally in a Maine state of mind rather than a Florida or Hawaii one.

"Retiring to Florida? No, I don't have any thoughts of retiring to a warmer place," said Jonathan. "Plus, I am lousy at golf and can't hulu."

The reality is, Jonathan found his warm place many years ago in a region of the United States known for cold weather several months of the year. He loves his local food and serving it to his extended family in the form of customers. Jonathan continues to be involved with all aspects of restaurant operations which is like saying he is in love with life. For Jonathan, owning Jonathan's Restaurant is a lifestyle more than just a career. He enjoys the simple things in life like food and making others happy.

"It's like what Stephen Sondheim once said, 'Don't do what you like, like what you do,'" said Jonathan with a big smile. "You know, we had a woman here that celebrated her 100th birthday. To see that... You don't know how much that meant to me. To see her celebrating here -- enjoying the food, the people, and celebrating in our restaurant -- well, those are the things that matter most and that make me most happy."

Jonathan's Restaurant is located at 92 Bourne Lane, Ogunquit, ME. Tel. (207) 646-4777
Web Site: http://www.jonathansogunquit.com
Facebook fan page:
https://www.facebook.com/jonathansogt/

Instagram page:
https://www.instagram.com/jonathansogt/

Twitter page: http://www.twitter.com/JonathansOgt
Jonathan's ticketing page: http://tickets.jonathansogunquit.com

Save the Jonathan's Restaurant graphic below on Pinterest...

Finding a very special restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine...


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More local small business reading:
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Bull Run Restaurant, Shirley, Mass.





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