With the abrupt closure of Close to Home in August of 2018, the gaping hole in the gourmet sandwich market that plagues present-day Midcoast Maine only seemed to widen further. The shop rose to prominence quickly, as an ambitious expansion of Home Kitchen Cafe’s core business just a stone’s throw away, renovating the space formerly occupied for almost 30 years by The Brown Bag into three distinct shops: Close to Home, which served sandwiches, burritos, soups, and a rotating selection of comfort food classics, Home Sweet Home, a custom bakery which also supplied the restaurant located up the street, and Cone Home, an ice cream and dessert parlor.
In less than two years, the three new businesses attracted a loyal following, thanks to the quality of the house-made ingredients, the variety of unique options available, and the proximity to Rockland’s vibrant Main Street. The fledgling sandwich operation, owned by Home Kitchen Cafe veterans Susan Schiro and husband James Hatch, earned rave reviews, area business awards, and quickly became a go-to destination for the midday lunch crowd, thanks no doubt in part to the giant, bold photos of the shop’s sandwiches that adorned the windows, drawing attention to the store’s freshly-baked rolls and signature ingredients.
Then, just as quickly as it started, it all seemed to end. The early warning signs began on Facebook: First, followers read about an abrupt turnover in staff. The hours of operation started to change frequently. There was a nearly endless search for new line cooks and staff, and a few mysterious midday closures. Then, the final announcement, via the website: “We’re sorry, due to unforeseen labor issues this location is closed. We hope to reopen in the near future. Our Home Sweet Home bakery will still be open.”
Any hope of a rebirth quickly seemed to fade, as the restaurant began selling off the kitchen equipment and “For Lease” signs appeared in the paper-covered windows. For sandwich enthusiasts, the simple pleasures of fatty mortadella drizzled with balsamic on freshly-baked crusty sandwich loaves became nothing more than a distant, fond memory. We munched our soggy convenience store Italians in sad resignation, telling tall tales of the other, better sandwiches that we took for granted.
Then, on April 11th, 2019, the sandwich pendulum swung again. Close to Home relaunched its sandwich operations in the still-humming “Home Sweet Home” bakery space, the sole remaining business carved out of Home Kitchen Cafe’s expansion. The store has been re-branded as “Home Kitchen Bakery,” and the menu has been pared down to the essentials; most of the hot sandwiches are gone, as are the burritos and burrito bowls. But the cold subs that quickly transformed the business from startup to gold standard are back, and we’re happy to report that they are every bit as good as they ever were, if not better; the crusty sub loaves are still baked in-house, but seem to do an even better job at walking the thin line between “pleasantly chewy” and “depositing a pile of cold cuts on your lap.” All of the flavors we remember are there; the tartness of the balsamic, the bright snap of the hot pepper relish, the red onion sliced so thinly as to become almost translucent. And on the day we visited, Schiro herself was back, warmly greeting customers who walked into the shop with the enthusiasm of a visit to an old friend, training new staff, and ensuring that the business that may have lost a step, picks up right where it left off.
We couldn’t be happier to have them back.