Dan and Cynthia Lief, left, who have owned the Islesford Dock Restaurant for 24 years, pose with Chef Kirby Sholl and Sous-chef Marah Borgman. PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAY OLIVER

Cranberry Island eatery closing

CRANBERRY ISLES — The popular Islesford Dock Restaurant always closes for the season the Sunday before Labor Day. This year, it might be closing then for good.

Dan and Cynthia Lief, who have owned and operated the restaurant for 24 years, have put it up for sale, along with the rest of the dock, which houses a pottery shop, gift shop and the office of the Little Cranberry Yacht Club.

The couple said last week that they don’t plan to open the restaurant next summer, even if no one buys it. A big reason, they said, is the difficulty of running a restaurant on an outer island.

“If you think the restaurant business is complicated generally, multiply that by two, three or four,” Dan Lief said.

He said the challenges include ordering food, getting it delivered on time, maintaining equipment and hiring and training staff.

“We think we run an excellent restaurant with outstanding food, but to hire a staff every June that can keep that up at that level is very difficult,” he said.

The decision to make this the last season also was influenced by the likely departure of Chef Kirby Sholl.

“Kirby is a terrific chef who has been with us the last eight years,” Lief said. “He’s seeing a lot of opportunities at year-round restaurants in southern Maine, and it’s time for him to move on.”

“But for us to start over again with a new chef here is really more than we can do.”

Lief said that, despite the challenges, owning and operating the Islesford Dock has been a great experience.

“Cynthia and I love working with young people. It’s wonderful teaching them about work, work ethic, what it means to have a job and to be on time and to do it well. We’re very proud of that.”

Lief said the restaurant’s customer profile has changed over the years, with tourists now making up a very small percentage.

“In the early days, there was more tourist business because the ferries weren’t as expensive as they are today,” he said. “Our business now is about 60 to 70 percent people with summer homes, and the rest are year-round people and cruisers with their sailboats. We know probably 90 percent of the people who walk in the door.”

Lief said that part of the restaurant’s enduring appeal is its casual, egalitarian atmosphere.

“You have fishermen dining with famous financiers from New York, and everyone likes that. You don’t get a better table because you happen to be wealthy or drive a fancy boat.”

Asked if she will miss the restaurant, Cynthia Lief said, “Oh, yeah.”

And then, “Well, I think so. It’s been 24 years since I’ve had to cook in the summer.”

The Islesford Dock is listed with the LandVest real estate firm. The asking price is not being publicly disclosed at this time. The Islesford Dock and .9-acre lot are assessed by the town for tax purposes at $681,900.

As word has spread that the dock is for sale and that this is the last season the Liefs will run the restaurant, speculation about what comes next has been rampant.

“There are some amazing rumors out there as to who’s buying it,” Cynthia Lief said. “Some are pretty funny.”


Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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