Athanus sisters reflect on 38 years of business

For Tanya and Brenda Athanus, what started out as a plan to spend one more college summer on the Belgrade Lakes flourished into a business that has now been around for 38 years.

The Athanus sisters co-own The Green Spot, located on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland. The yellow and green building is hard to miss. The store features good food made from quality ingredients, and includes everything from wine and cheese to lobsters.
“We’re from here, we went out of state to go to school, and we wanted to spend one more summer on the lake,” Brenda said. “We didn’t know how we were going to do it, we just thought we’d get, you know, quick local jobs…[Then] we went by this place and it was empty and I said, ‘Let’s just do a food store for the summer…and then we’ll be all grown up and then we could do something else.’”

Then one summer turned into two, and by the third year the Athanus sisters had bought the building. “We just kept doing it,” Brenda said, and with each consecutive year, the sisters were busier than the last.

Tanya said that the early days of the store coincided with the beginnings of the local food movement, when people were starting to become more interested in the things they ate. The sisters began by selling things like produce, canned goods, homemade butter, bread, eggs, lobsters and fish, and then the store expanded from there.
Brenda, who went to cooking school, prepares the food at The Green Spot. “I enjoy everything I make,” Brenda said. “I love to cook.”

To some Americans, the kitchen at The Green Spot might look small. “People always say, ‘You do everything in that little space.’ Well, first of all it’s not small, and second of all, three-star restaurants in Paris have small kitchens. Only in America do they have big kitchens, but yet we do the worst cooking…a big kitchen doesn’t translate into good food. You can either cook or you can’t cook,” Brenda said.

And she sure can cook: from chicken curry to onion relish and blueberry sauce, to breads and cheeses, Brenda does it all; she recently published a food memoir called Life: One Tablespoon at a Time. Her passion for cooking cannot be mistaken. “I get to come to work, I get to work with the nicest ingredients, and I get to cook anything I want, and anything I can think of that I want to cook, I can cook,” Brenda said.

But it is not just about the cooking; it is about having the opportunity for others to enjoy it. “I have all these wonderful people that say, ‘Oh my God, thank you; that was so good.’ It’s so self-satisfying to be able to cook what you want to cook, but to have people appreciate it as much as they do, to me that is the greatest gift this store has for me,” Brenda said.
For Tanya, her favorite part of the store is the people who walk through the door. “I just love the customers; I really do. You never know who’s going to walk in and they’re all interested in our store and support us,” Tanya said. “Sometimes you’ll have a day, somebody will walk in and they haven’t been here in 20 years or 10 years, and just a big smile on their face. And they say ‘Oh I’m so glad you’re still here!’”

One of Brenda’s favorite customers was William “Bro” Adams, former president of the College who brought his knowledge of French culture to the store. “And it’s Oakland, Maine, you know? It’s not outside of Boston, it’s where the streetcar doesn’t go, I mean it’s really the end of the line,” Brenda said. “He was a dream customer for me; he was why I have a store like I have. He got it. He got the French overtones and the undertones.”

The Athanus sisters also say they get a lot of college students at The Green Spot. “They’re so undull…they’re full of life,” Tanya said. “We miss them all summer, we really do.”

The Green Spot has become a landmark over the years, evolving into the type of place that people make a special trip for. “We have such nice customers,” Brenda said. “People say, ‘Oh you work so hard.’ I say, ‘Yeah, we work so hard and all day long we get kissed and hugged. Poor us,” she added sarcastically. “And I’m not saying every day is absolutely perfect, but jeez you get one every ten years that isn’t perfect.”

Today, The Green Spot is a blend of what customers want and Tanya and Brenda’s original vision for their store. Customers often say they want a place exactly like The Green Spot in their town, but if you tried to move the business 40 miles away, Brenda said it wouldn’t be the same store. “You have to be sensitive to the surroundings,” she said.

The sisters’ philosophy boils down to two very simple ideas: seeing people eat well, and enjoying the process.
The Green Spot closes for the season on Columbus Day weekend and is open 9 am to 7 pm everyday except Tuesday.