Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier
Monica Velgos / May 2013
Food Arts presents the May 2013 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to chefs/owners Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, who, 25 years ago, dug in heels and spades in a small New England seaside village to create Arrows, their unique spin on an idyllic garden-supported restaurant. Learning from the seasons’ ebb and flow how to face challenge with gratitude and work/life balance, these two business-and-life partners renew their commitment to their guests year after year as they innovate authentic farm-to-table dining as few have done in the United States.
It was a wintry day in 1988 when Gaier and Frasier, exhilarated from their turn at Jeremiah Tower’s Stars in San Francisco, first visited the much-neglected colonial farmhouse on 5 acres in Ogunquit, Maine, which they would name Arrows. Sensing tremendous potential beneath the glistening snow on the building’s roof and windows, they emptied their savings and maxed out their credit to nurture the property into the beautiful restaurant of their dreams. “A lot of money was needed to be put into the building and to upgrade the grounds and lighting,” says Frasier. “When we built the wine cellar and remodeled the kitchen the first time, we did it all ourselves.”
But what became their signature wasn’t actually in the business plan. “We started our garden because, as chefs, we were frustrated by the quality and lack of variety of the produce we could get in the area,” Gaier says. Now an intensely cultivated acre (which they no longer Roto-Till themselves) filled with lettuces, vegetables, and exotics like lemongrass and Asian greens, the garden and greenhouse provide 95 percent of the produce for Arrows and 30 percent for MC Perkins Cove, a bistro with dramatic sea views they opened in 2005. “We’re really proud that it’s the real deal,” Frasier says of his and Gaier’s efforts. Their industry peers agree, awarding them with the James Beard Award for Best Chefs Northeast 2010.
Maintaining the romance—and guest interest—is the heart of operations when an area’s population fluctuates between 60,000 and 800. Eclectic serving pieces, craftsman decor, and evocative lighting make a visit to Arrows on even a rainy November night feel gorgeous. Theme dinners provide locals with entertainment options in the off-season. And keeping flowers in the bathroom and staff on full salary during the recession “was a good signal to send to guests,” says Frasier. “This year we’re bringing trolleys to the dining room,” he continues. “Staying within the tradition, but keeping it a step ahead.”
Gaier and Frasier now switch between the two kitchens, but untether themselves to travel regularly. This fall’s itinerary includes a bike tour through Myanmar. “Taking care of ourselves is important to us. And it’s fun,” says Gaier. They also work on their relationship, which clearly benefits from Maine’s quieter, more natural, setting. “Mark’s taught me a lot about taking a genuine interest in the people you work with,” Frasier says.
Gaier adds: “Clark helped me prioritize and stay organized. It’s helped my self-confidence in my personal and professional life, I gotta say.” They’re also grateful to have a dynamic former staff on hand to run MC Medici Ristorante & Bar in the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel they’ll open this fall. “We’re always focused on making our life together, as well as our business life together, better,” says Frasier. “And that takes a lot of tending.”