Pearl restaurant to open on Rockland waterfront
Rockland — Jimmy Fanning said his best friend had been asking him to come to Rockland for each of the past six years to sail aboard a schooner.
Finally during last Memorial Day weekend, Fanning came to Rockland to join Jason and Shannon Tittle aboard the Stephen Taber.
"The minute I turned on to Main Street, I turned to Jason and said, 'I get it,'" Fanning said.
After going sailing, he returned to his out-of-state home, packed his bags and then moved to Rockland. He moved into 256 Main St. with its view of Rockland Harbor. He immediately spotted the former Black Pearl building and began thinking what a shame it was that the restaurant was not open for the summer season.
Fanning, who has run six restaurants in both South Florida, where he grew up, and Southern California, decided he wanted to get back into the restaurant business with the Rockland waterfront location.
"All my restaurants have been about locations. And this is as epic a location as you can get," Fanning said as he looked out the window of the building with its view of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse and islands of Penobscot Bay.
Fanning, two brothers-in law and a nephew have made a commitment to start up the restaurant that will be named "The Pearl." The Pearl will be a seafood and lobster restaurant at the end of the dock that extends into the center of Rockland Harbor.
Conte's Restaurant will be converted into a marine service shop and be called The Pearl Store. The marine service shop will serve the 20 to 25 boats that will be able to dock overnight or during the day at the dock and slips at the Pearl property.
Fanning said Conte's will move out of its space on April 15.
The Pearl restaurant will open May 15 and be open through Oct. 31 when it will close with a Halloween party. The business will employ 65 people on a seasonal basis.
Fanning's other family members include brother-in-law Gary Renner, who worked for 29 years in the food and beverage business with Walt Disney World in Florida. The other brother-in-law, Frank Nasworthy, is an engineer who retired from Hewlett-Packard. Nasworthy lived in Maine when he was younger since his father was a pilot at Brunswick Naval Air Station. Fanning's nephew Chris Bensen will serve as general manager and provide the "youthful energy" needed to run a restaurant.
Fanning said he has adopted Rockland as his hometown. He said the people have been very supportive of his effort.
Fanning said everybody he runs into has stories about good times at the old Black Pearl.
The building was rebuilt in 2005 after a fire destroyed the former building at the same location in December 2004. Grapes Restaurant was located in the building at the time of the fire. The Black Pearl had closed a few years earlier after decades, starting as Captain Pete's restaurant.