John & Linda Lapinski

How did we start over?

According to the website whoopiepies.org, whoopie pies are a Maine tradition, “They’re one of Maine’s best known and favorite comfort foods. People living in Maine often claim that they were weaned on whoopie pies.” So of course, they are a staple at the historic Tall Barney’s restaurant located in Jonesport, Maine. You’ll find other “Downeast” classics such as fresh lobster, fried haddock and blueberry pie. But there are items on the menu that kind of stand out; the Haddock Rueben, the Turkey Tango, and the Rodeo Burger just don’t seem like culinary concoctions originating in Maine. That’s because the owners and chefs are “from away,” meaning they aren’t from the area, not even Maine. John and Linda Lapinski were insurance agents from New Jersey before they came to Jonesport. Their journey to Maine started with John and was thirty years in the making.

When John was nineteen years old he had decided to leave New Jersey, move to Maine and become a lobsterman. But it all changed when he met Linda. They formed a bond over good food and fun. They were married and settled down in New Jersey. Maine though was always on their minds. They talked about living in Maine. How they loved the rocky coastline. They envisioned how someday they would retire in Maine. Spend their retirement running a little fish shack that would serve good food. They had no real plan, just the idea and the knowing that they would know when the time was right.

Dreaming about retirement was a welcomed distraction from running a stressful insurance business. The couple found cooking and entertaining friends as a great stress reliever as well. But for John, the business was becoming an obsession and soon drinking became his escape.   Overtime, when Linda would talk about moving to Maine, it offered no relief to John. In fact, it was as if Linda was taunting him with these dreams. To John, the dream was dying and he was too.

In 2002, John was close to 100 pounds overweight, he was diagnosed with diabetes and a heart condition, but was still drinking. Heavily. His doctor gives him six months to live. Linda at her breaking point demanded, “Straighten out or I’m out.” On July 6, 2002, John decided to go to re-hab.  At re-hab the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous helped John strengthen his connection to his Higher Power. As he was driving home from re-hab, this connection, John says, sent him a gift.

In the car, John tuned into National Public Radio (NPR). The host was talking about a restaurant in Maine, a local landmark that would probably be closing its doors forever. No one was interested in buying the place. The restaurant was Tall Barney’s.

On September 21, 2002, after a long ride from New Jersey, John and Linda were in Jonesport. They slowed down as they got to the restaurant, but didn’t stop. Instead they drove right to the realtor. By November 21, 2002, they had sold their house, their business, and were on their way to start a new life in Maine.

Family and friends thought they were nuts. John’s counselor told him a huge change like this would put his sobriety in danger. But to John and Linda this really wasn’t a rash decision. They had been talking about this opportunity since 1974. The dream became their reality.

Their dream hasn’t been a perfect tale. The couple had never run a restaurant and the fact that they were “from away,” was not sitting well with some locals. But the couple was committed to their initial dream. Tall Barney’s is no fish shack, but they knew if they stayed on course, to provide good food, they would make it.

John and Linda have been living their dream for eight years now in what they like to call their “little slice of heaven.” And in the restaurant’s off season, John is fulfilling the dream of his nineteen year old self by being a lobsterman.

SOUL Survey Questions

1. How do you stay focused and motivated?
Motivation is not a problem when you love what you do. Stay committed to your goals.

2. How do you deal with naysayers?
Naysayers most of the time are jealous. Ignore them and do what is best for you.

3. How do you blur the lines between work and play?
When you love what you do, the line is gone. Your creativity is unlocked and your inner artist is let loose.