There is a quintessential image of vacationing in New England—and one of Maine in particular. Typically, you stay in a mom-and-pop-owned bed & breakfast in a quaint seaside village. Hiking, swimming, enjoying local artwork, and boating of all kinds are the standard itinerary. And then a fresh-as-can-be al fresco lobster dinner.
That is the Maine experience Raymond Brunyanszki fell in love with back in 2003, when he visited Acadia National Park; the nearby town of Bar Harbor had captured this coastal idyll. Brunyanszki and his partner (and today, co-owner) Oscar Verest thought that they could stand to live on the ocean, so they did. They moved from The Netherlands to the charming port-town of Camden, Maine not long after. With years of prior experience in the hospitality arena consulting for hotels in Asia, Brunyanszki made his first foray into New England hospitality by acquiring the local Camden Harbour Inn ten years ago with the intention of providing guests the same picturesque experience.
But as with all of Brunyanszki's endeavors, there’s a slight twist.
From up on its hill, the traditional, all-white, maritime-colonial exterior (complete with a widow’s walk), the Camden Harbour Inn fits in snugly in the bed & breakfast Mecca, where maybe half of the nearby boutique shops use the same “Mainely Antiques” pun. Only when guests walk inside to the 20-guestroom property do they realize that this is not grandma’s B&B. The style is unexpectedly—but not unpleasantly—modern, with pops of vivid color in every space that punctuate the pristine whiteness evocative of a classic New England style home.
The accompanying fine-dining restaurant Natalie’s, helmed by two married executive chefs, further reimagines the preconceived Maine dining experience. The Camden Harbour Inn has several lobster fishermen contracted to deliver locally sourced seafood. To enhance the standard lobster dinner, The Camden Harbour Inn offers a five-course lobster-themed tasting menu. At the end, however, guests receive a whole lobster right on the table with the meat extracted in an upscale reinvention of the lobster bake; the wine-and-cheese course is served in a picnic basket. Though the food is gourmet, in typical Maine spirit, it’s not too serious. The restaurant doesn't maintain a dress code, so that guests are encouraged to come and dine in their shorts and flip flops just after disembarking from their sailboats and yachts.
The Camden Harbour Inn does not spurn tradition either in its luxury. The Inn invites guests five nights a week onto a private schooner to sail around Camden Harbor and enjoy champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Additionally, in local conjunction with the Dowling Walsh Art Gallery in neighboring Rockland, the Inn also allows guests to have a “Date Night” with an art piece. Before arrival, guests can browse from the online gallery, and The Inn will arrange for the piece to be displayed in their room, so as to help the guests “get a feel” for the piece, before a potential purchase—if not, it's returned to the gallery.
The Camden Harbour Inn, which became a member of Relais & Châteaux in 2013, is not Brunyanszki’s only imaginative venture in Maine hospitality. In 2014, Brunyanszki also purchased The Danforth, an eight-room, one-suite private mansion-turned-bank-turned-speakeasy-turned-boarding school for girls-turned-hotel in Maine’s largest city, Portland. It recently completed renovations throughout the entire property.
Like the Inn, The Danforth’s well-tended gardens, red brick exterior and white trimmings are right at home among the Old Port of Portland’s West End. Again, however, when guests enter, the interior is a surprise. Inspired by Brunyanszki's years spent throughout Thailand and Indonesia, The Danforth’s luxury-boutique social spaces and rooms exude a posh Southeast Asian flavor in the modern decor, though the B&B coziness so inextricable from Maine comfort still remains in the arrangements.
The motif is fully realized in the accompanying Tempo Dulu restaurant and adjacent bar, Opium. Tempo Dulu brings creative Southeast Asian plates to a city otherwise known by its lobster shacks and microbreweries. The recently redone Opium bar is an emergent cocktail scene in a city that understands its drinks, and its Asian-fusion character serves as a testament to Portland’s burgeoning cosmopolitanism. Upon sitting down, in lieu of a cocktail menu, bar patrons are given an Asian-style puzzle box that they are to open; inside are cards with the names of the drinks shown alongside illustrations, its ingredients, its preparation and a “potency meter.” The Jakarta is Opium’s most famous and popular drink—an Indonesian take on a Manhattan made with smoldering Chinese five spice, pink peppercorns and absinthe. Other drinks are served in refashioned hookah pipes and coffee makers.
Though its inspiration may be a half a world away from the midcoast of Maine, The Danforth still provides guests with traditional Maine experiences, such as the opportunity to join a contracted lobsterman on their ship to learn about the lobster fishing process, and even get a chance to cook their own lobster later.
Brunyanszki's next enterprise is in the works, and, for it, he’s going back to Southeast Asia. By late spring/early summer next year, Brunyanszki is launching a tour company called Desa Tours and Travel. Desa will provide luxury lodgings, amenities and curated cultural experiences for groups of 15 to 20 people throughout a grand tour of Indonesia and Thailand. These tours have a culinary angle, and Brunyanszki intends for his tours to escape the cookie-cutter, mainstream quality of typical Southeast Asian tours and deliver authentic, “I know a guy”-type experiences, such as exclusive tours of private historic temples—all with a more accessible price tag. Brunyanszki is expecting/aiming for 400 travelers in the first year.
As with all of Brunyanszki's ventures, one can expect it to be different in an unexpected but pleasant way.