DEXTER, Maine – A husband-and-wife team that runs a beef farm and day care center in Dover-Foxcroft is investing in downtown Dexter with their new business – a combined meat market and cafe.
Benjamin and Ashley Cookson, who own Shaw Road Farm and Little Organics Early Learning Center, opened Shaw Road Ranch Meat Market & Cafe on August 10.
Like many small towns in Maine, Dexter has struggled with vacant storefronts, but this Penobscot County town of 3,803, according to U.S. Census data, is trying to attract the steady stream of travelers heading to the area from Moosehead Lake in its stores.
When Dexter Shoe Co. closed in 2001, putting many people out of work, the town fell on tough economic times. Dexter doesn’t see many new businesses moving downtown, but does have a handful of long-standing popular businesses such as Reny’s Department Store and Ace Hardware. Benjamin Cookson hopes his family’s new business is part of a downtown revitalization.
When the Cooksons came across the building at 23 Spring St., they bought it and turned the lower level into a meat market and cafe. The businesses already established upstairs will continue to operate.
Benjamin Cookson, whose parents started the farm in 1995 as a retirement project and later passed it on to him, said the operations had grown and the family needed a place to sell their grass-fed Angus beef. grass and other meat products in addition to the farmers markets of Orono and Waterville.
This idea quickly turned into something bigger.
“We needed stainless steel tables, and I ended up meeting a guy on Facebook and buying equipment for two sandwich shops,” Cookson said. “So I said, ‘Well, if we have all this equipment, let’s make sandwiches. “”
The company offers coffee drinks and wraps with homemade sauces. Cookson, who likes to experiment in the kitchen and says he doesn’t believe in mayonnaise, cooks up the recipes. The menu changes daily, depending on her ideas and the ingredients available and in season.
For example, late last week, the store served a Philly cheesesteak wrap with a Togarashi-inspired pepper sauce and a chicken Caesar wrap, among other options.
Most of their products contain Maine ingredients, including local vegetables and vegetables used in wraps and roasted coffee beans in Winterport and Kingfield. The baked goods are from Pleasant & Center Community Kitchen, a bakery and restaurant business in Monson.
Dexter resident Jessica Gonzalez, who stopped by late last week, loves that the store can make her iced coffee with sugar-free caramel and vanilla flavors, she said. Her teenage son, Anthony, ordered a double espresso Mountain Dew float.
“I was excited about the new business [to open]”, Gonzalez said. “I’m actually going to make a meat pack out of them too so we can stock up for the winter.”
The meat market and cafe, with concrete floors and wood paneled ceilings, have leather seats and a large display of antique and eclectic pieces the Cooksons have chosen. Artwork by Orono-based artist Daryne Rockett hangs on the walls, and the shop may feature other artists as well.
There’s also outdoor seating, including a stage for live music performances. An inflatable movie screen will give residents a place to watch movies outside, Benjamin Cookson said.
Customers can purchase grass-fed and grass-finished Angus beef and Finn lamb, Berkshire pork and pastured chicken from Shaw Road Farm. The farm — which won the Maine Beef Producers Association’s 2021 annual beef producer award — practices low-stress cattle handling, Cookson said.
The farm also uses community grazing, which means it can raise 75 cattle on a small number of acres because they constantly tend the field themselves, Cookson said. The animals are raised naturally, without antibiotics, which combined with farm practices produce quality meat, he said.
The Cooksons scouted several locations in Dover-Foxcroft for their new venture, but when nothing worked out they turned to a nearby town. Cookson has ties to Dexter and considers it a welcoming community.
That’s why the Cooksons are raising money to buy the CN Brown parking lot in Dexter, which once housed a convenience store and gas station that closed in 2009. They started a GoFundMe page to raise the $100,000 needed to buy the empty lot, which they want to turn into a community park. Cookson envisions amphitheater seating, a space for live music, a farmers market and more.
For more information, visit the Shaw Road Ranch Meat Market & Cafe Facebook page.