The Tastemakers: David Gulak + Josh Sullivan
How did you come to be in Fairfield?
Josh: I’m originally from Massachusetts and moved up to Maine eight years ago to farm. Up here, it’s affordable to buy enough property to homestead or farm. I shopped for Maine homes while in Iowa, but I had known I wanted to live in Maine because I lived in Wiscasset for a time when I was younger and loved it. Choosing central Maine was essentially throwing a dart on a map – it’s affordable to live here, and we could feasibly commute anywhere from Bangor to Portland if we wanted.
David: In 2006, I was living in Harpswell and looking for my own place – preferably somewhere north of Augusta because it would be affordable. I was driving through Fairfield and needed to pull over to look at a map. I saw a handwritten for-sale-by-owner sign with the owner sitting on the front porch. I bought the house. Fairfield is an energy center – it’s literally the crossroads of Maine – which is why we can operate Meridians here.
How has Fairfield changed during your time here?
David + Josh: While some businesses have opened and closed, it hasn’t changed a lot outside of the Meridians store and restaurant. But it doesn’t necessarily have to change – we need to capitalize on what’s already here, do what we do, and evolve. This was a thriving commercial center with shops – in some respects, we need to “unchange” and return to what downtown Fairfield once was.
Tell me about your work in the culinary industry. What do you do and why? Why here?
David: Fancy restaurants using locally-sourced ingredients exist in cities where farms aren’t located. We know farmers who drive to Portland or Boston to deliver. Fairfield is the optimal place to be because of the proximity to farms. We draw concentric circles from Newport to Skowhegan to Augusta and Unity – we can source the produce we need within 20 miles.
In terms of my personal background, I grew up helping my dad cook and tend to our hefty home garden – it was about 4,000 sq.ft. My dad was a professional cook and owned his own restaurant.
Where do you think Fairfield will be in 5-10 years?
David: Fairfield could be the Hallowell of Waterville. We’ve already got the two-way traffic, the nice facades, and our downtown will be vibrant – it doesn’t have to be huge. We’re the “rootsier” counterpart.
Where will the culinary industry be in Fairfield in 5-10 years?
David: Our mission is to inspire other businesses to locate here. The Meridians wine shop wasn’t enough, so we started Meridians Kitchen & Bar. Soon, my wife Emilie will open “A Happy Small Place”, a kid-friendly coffee shop next to the restaurant.
Why should young people get involved in a small, rural town like Fairfield?
David + Josh: It’s not for everyone, but if you are pioneering and up for a challenge, this is the place to be. How fun is it to open the 31st coffee shop in Portland? Start something cool here. Have fun being an entrepreneur.
On a more obvious note, it’s affordable to live here, which is attractive to the new “back to the land” generation. The original “back to the land” movement drew a lot of people here in the 1970s, and I think we’re returning to that feel.
What are the challenges you face as a young leader in your field?
David: Good help is hard to find. We’ve worked hard to cultivate it. We take our time, treat our employees right, and train them – we don’t assume that they know how to do the job.
What advice do you have for Millennials deciding where to put down roots/get involved?
David: Talk to us! Find a new, refreshing, accessible business model. Break the mold.
Josh: People here want new stuff – they’re commuting to Portland for it.
David: That’s it – know the community you’re selling to. This is a nuanced community. People don’t give central Mainers the credit they deserve. There’s a defeatist attitude that people won’t pay for quality, but we have found the opposite to be true here. Have faith, put all the effort in, and remember to focus on customer service. That’s how we compete.