First appeared in The Franklin Journal

The Red Barn” is a small restaurant at 455 Riverside Drive, Augusta, Maine. Making your way out of Augusta via ME-3 E, you may think you’ve gone too far just about the time you find the left turn onto Riverside. Drive down Riverside, and just about the time you’re thinking you missed it (it’s only a mile) you’ll find it on your right. I first went looking for it when I heard about the awesome lobster rolls and fried seafood. Then I heard about the owner, Laura Benedict. Laura was in the news, because Maine authorities thought Laura was doing so many restaurant-based community fundraisers, she needed to establish a foundation. Working with Maine authorities on this, she was able to meet the requirement to be able to continue her passion of combining selling great food and raising funds for those in need. One evening I combined my quest for tasting the famous lobster roll and meeting this woman with the big heart. The place was packed with people of all ages. Laura was moving around the tables, serving food, and spreading incredible goodwill and generosity. Over lobster, I settled in and watched her work her magic.

Months later, Laura was at the Winthrop Rotary Chowder Cookoff, sharing her bright smile and samples of her award winning chowder. Following introductions, we shared a short exchange. Recently, I stopped at Red Barn with a friend to have some lobster and other fine food delicacies. Laura follows me on Facebook and greeted me with a big smile and hug and spoke of our previous meeting.  As she does with many patrons, she escorted us to our table, telling me how much I inspire her and that we really need to take time to have a longer chat. Absolutely, I agreed, but humbly shared with her that she inspires me every day with her Facebook stories of community love, courage and generosity; personal triumphs and tragedies.

Talk with Laura of how the restaurant came to be, or check out Red Barn’s website where you will also find the menu, community giving opportunities, and link to applying for community help. Laura hasn’t been an overnight success. As some people observed her giving food away and opening the restaurant to fundraising events, they assured her this was no way to create a sustainable business. Yet, in spite of naysayers and numerous personal and business setbacks, she has  successfully, outlasted many other restaurants in the area.

The Red Barn Logo

Red Barn serves sweet, deliciously, satisfying lobster, but you can’t go wrong with any other of the other numerous options – fries, clams, burgers, salads, soft serve ice cream, and lots more. If you aren’t happy with your food, Laura works to make it right. It’s been said “The Taste of the Roast is determined by the handshake (or in this case, hug) of the Host”. Laura combines food, people and unconditional love to make this the Red Barn experience.

Laura has heartfelt love for all of her customers. She particularly loves Veteran’s. Recently, she asked some customers if they would mind parking a further from the entrance to make room for Veterans. When they were less than accommodating, Laura later painted purple wheelchair emblems to specifically designate Veteran parking spaces. She hugs them in the dining room; takes a moment to offer each comfort, as needed; and shares their stories. Laura understands unconditional love, so for customers who park in the field, she offers a shuttle and a 10 percent discount off their total food purchase. Now that’s love, Laura style!

DC WWII Memorial

Washington, DC WWII Memorial

On July 11th, 1pm-7pm, with a full menu and even fuller heart, Laura is hosting a fundraiser for the “October 2016 Honor Flight Trip”. ( Honor Flight’s mission is to “transport every willing WWII Veteran to Washington, DC to experience their national memorials built in their honor, at no cost.” People, food, cool cars, and live entertainment will help put the spotlight on veterans. Order off the menu and take the opportunity to shake veteran’s hands, offer gratitude, and listen to their stories. I am looking forward to celebrating Veterans. It’s a terrible thing to think you and the service you gave to your country has been forgotten. This is their moment. I’ll be there to help not let their moment go unnoticed. I’ll be in good company with Lester Holt (NBC Nightly News) and WCSH6. I invite you to join me. Food brings people together to do small things, magnificently. See you at Red Barn!

Update: The event was a fabulous success. I stayed 3 – pm, much longer than I had expected. I watched as people filtered in and out, or arrived as I did and stayed. Motorcycles, hot cars, trucks and cars overfilled the parking lot and other areas. I envisioned a large glass jar filled with stones, representing the Veterans. Their stories, music that was provided by volunteer talent and reflected the different war eras, presentation by Honor Flight, and shared praises for the veterans, filtered down through the stones and filled the spaces, until the jar was overflowing with goodwill, communication, and support – human being to human being.

A buffet of hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, fried haddock and beverages (donations accepted for Honor Flight) was plentiful and provided not only bodily nourishment, but provided also, a distraction, enabling people to “be” more freely. I had a lovely chat with a Vietnam War Veteran and his wife. I’ll share their story in a future post.

My heart overflows with “all of it”. Thank you dear reader, for spending a moment to share in the emotion, light, and love of this moment. We would all love to have you share your story in the comment section. Peace and light.