Louise Grimmel, who has owned the iconic Helm restaurant in Rockport for the past 32 years, said Feb. 5 that she is optimistic about re-opening the business later this spring although the property is currently for sale.

Speculation into the future of the Helm had recently arisen when the restaurant's street sign lay in the driveway for weeks following a storm last fall, and then the property appeared on the real estate market. But although it's offered for sale, Grimmel said that she intends to continue with the business in late April or early May.

"A lot of people have called me over the past months and said 'You're really closing?' But the restaurant always closes in October and reopens in the spring. This is just the first time that I've tried to sell it. I'm 65 now, and I thought it might be time to sell," said Grimmel, speaking on the phone from Florida, where she vacations each winter.

Over three decades ago Grimmel purchased the restaurant from its previous owners, Claude and Madeline Broughton, who were family friends. Since then she has kept much of the menu and the decor the same, and credits the Broughtons for making her transition into restaurant ownership a comfortable one. Before finding the Helm, Grimmel, who hailed from the Lewiston-Auburn area, asked the Broughtons if they knew of any restaurants on the coast that might be available; they told her that they were considering the Commercial Street venue.

"I was terrified at first, and had put everything I had into the down payment. But for the first two months, I worked every morning with Madeline, who had put together all of the recipes," said Grimmel. After first working as a hostess, Grimmel started working permanently in the kitchen, where to this day she continues to prepare the Helm's soups, chowders and stuffings and specials, with some help from her line crew.

First opened in the 1960s, the Helm has offered traditional fare such as broiled steaks and fried seafood, as well as one of the largest salad bars on the Midcoast. Although she admits to putting some 'tweaks' on some of the original recipes, Grimmel says that it is the consistency of the menu which keeps customers back. And although she has occasionally made minor renovations to the restaurant's decor, she says that the somewhat dated ambiance inside has the ability to bring diners back in time to the Rockport of yesteryear.

Each year Grimmel hires about 15 employees, half of which have worked for her for years: one waitress has been working at the Helm since before Grimmel purchased it. But she says that a contributing factor to deciding to sell the restaurant has been the increasing difficulty to find "good help."

"It can be very hard when you hire someone and it doesn't work out, and then you have to put that much more work on the good workers who are there. There also aren't a lot of people who want to work at a seasonal job, when there are restaurants nearby that are open year round," said Grimmel.

According to the Maine Real Estate Network, the property is listed for $595,000. The restaurant building and another outbuilding sit on 1.8 acres at 141 Commercial St. Grimmel said that if it should sell, she believes that the business would likely stay the same, although this is not stipulated in any potential sale agreement.

"There has been some interest in it already. If it sells, I'm assuming that whoever buys it will take the business largely the same and keep a lot of the recipes, because the Helm is a well known name around here. For the amount I'm asking, I'm assuming that someone will buy it to keep the name," said Grimmel, who added that she would be willing to stay on and help the new owners familiarize themselves with the business and the food.

In the meantime, residents in the Midcoast will have to wait and see what transpires over the next months, and if the Helm opens as planned to offer them the foods and dining experience they have come to expect for over 50 years.