I live in Laisee Holden’s old house. Laisee, a local Mainer with an impressive philanthropic resume, is married to Luke Holden of Luke’s Lobster.
The day we closed on the house, as we unbuckled our seat belts to head inside to finalize the deal, two new Mainers ready to put down roots, my husband placed his hand on my leg and lovingly asked, “Are you going to be weird?”
I’m an actress by trade. My mother ran a children’s theatre growing up, I went to Emerson College for Acting and I founded a business that was recently acquired for college audition coaching. Essentially, I love a big crowd, certainly love the spotlight and am not easily intimidated. There’s just not much that really rattles me.
But my husband knows the truth. Celebrities? Not phased. Opening night of a new show? Child’s play. Being in the same room as a restaurateur or entrepreneur? Complete buffoon.
When we toyed with the idea of moving to Maine, I thought (like most of you reading this, I imagine, at some point in your life . . . admit it): I would love to own a restaurant! C’mon, I’m a half decent cook and I know how to run a business, I can do this! But no, you guys, no, I can’t. There is a special magic that surrounds these people, an unbridled fearlessness that not everyone has. When I went to Acting school, I was often met with the phrase: “if you can do anything else with your life and be happy, you should do that.” I’m sure there is a restaurant equivalent, and I guarantee every restaurateur and Chef has heard it.
It’s that notion that resonates with me. That makes me jittery, awkward, thrilled. I know what it’s like to attempt a life in an industry that’s unforgiving and grueling. What it’s like to fight for a chance to even do your job - a job with tough hours and tricky schedules with the majority of your work done on the weekends, one that comes with an understanding you will miss friends’ weddings and kids’ milestones, no financial security and one that is done in total service to your audience.
You don’t go into the restaurant or performing arts industry for any other reason except that you have to. There’s no other way.
So why do these people - who I can rationalize in my head are normal people with similar dysfunctional, hopeful dreams - make me a total idiot when I am in their presence? I imagine it’s similar to the feeling you get when you see your first Broadway play. Losing yourself in the story as soon as the lights go up.
I get swept up in the story of a restaurant. What’s going on behind the scenes, taking in the entrances and exits of all of the major characters that make up any given Friday night 7PM reservation. I read for days about what local ingredients they are using, what dish I have to try and where the chef draws their inspiration. Why they make this food, right now, and in particular, why Maine? Is it a couple team? What does their schedule look like if they have kids? What are they running low on tonight and what do they really think I should order? My husband knows not to talk to me on the way to a new restaurant and god forbid we are running a minute late he knows he will pay for it later. And if we are somewhere that the Chef makes the rounds at the end of a meal, forget it, I usually pretend I have a mouth full of dessert to avoid the word vomit. In my husband’s words: I get weird.
When I got word of who the sellers were of the house, I was instantly transported back to the Upper East Side of NYC where my husband (then boyfriend) and I would treat ourselves to a roll at Luke’s on our limited law school and actor budget. One time, while waiting in line, a customer casually pointed to the back and explained to his buddy, “that’s Luke” - who appeared to be knee deep in prep work. It was the first time that feeling ran through me - like, right, someone made this place. The person in the back created this space - a place where I store date nights, memories, and daydreams about our future - it’s always over food, in the beautiful comfort of a place that someone else has created for us.
But here we are at the signing for our new sweet little house. A beautiful Maine day. Like a ridiculous, picturesque day. A bald eagle literally flew over the ocean right in front of us. We’re laughing with our realtor, I’m pretending to be calm.
And in walk the Holdens. And on all accounts, they were super normal, extremely nice, and to everyone else in the room that day, just two Mainers happy to sell an old house. I was a bubbly mess.
I reached out to Laisee to see if I could steal them for an interview to further investigate if they were, in fact, just normal people and she kindly obliged. And just to make me a smidge more awkward and nervous during our Zoom session, my internet decided today was the day to take a break. The first chunk of the interview the Holdens patiently watched me scramble to switch connections and observe my face transform into 18 different shades of red.
Things on my end are delayed - are you delayed? Okay, well let’s begin - wait. Let’s - um. I think it might be - it's my internet. I can switch it really quick. Is this better? Now, I think it's.. I think it was my end. Anyway. Okay, cool. Cool. So yeah, great.
Okay! So, I won’t even ask you if I was awkward during the house signing as I already know you guys are too nice to say yes. Is there anyone or anything you guys fan over pretty hard? Or a moment of imposter syndrome or looking around at what you created in disbelief?
LAISEE: Luke and I have both been lucky to travel a lot and meet interesting people - but I think I'd say I’m mostly a homebody and I get nervous, but Luke never gets nervous except for I think before How I Built This.
LUKE: I love that podcast. It was entirely nerve-racking because we did it live and you got such a short period of time to tell 10 years worth of stories that relate back to the team and the success of the team. That night I didn't sleep at all - not before, afterwards - because I just kept replaying in my head what I thought I did or did not say and how it might relate back to the team.
Well, I love that podcast and you didn’t sound nervous at all to me! On a different note, this has obviously been a very strange and difficult time for so many people, and I have been following how quickly the Luke’s team had to pivot and adjust when COVID struck as well. At home or work, what’s an adaption or lesson you’ve taken away from COVID? Anything positive that happened that you want to continue to incorporate moving forward?
LUKE: I generally think so - like my mom is a retired teacher, one of Laisee’s sisters is a teacher, two of her sisters are nurses and it's been wonderful how this pandemic has drummed up appreciation for those professions. They’re always tough, they're always under compensated, underappreciated. It's been nice that Luke’s has been able to participate in supporting those on the front line. And I would include teachers in that same vein. We've been able to provide food, we've been able to create appreciation packs for nurses and teachers and we've definitely taken that as a drum beat that we hope to continue to make sure we don't lose momentum when we’re on the backside of this pandemic. On the home front what would you say?
LAISEE: I think it was nice at the beginning to have Luke working from home and he could have breakfast with the girls or try to sneak away to have lunch. He wasn't traveling - which beforehand he traveled to New York every two weeks. So, we've been spoiled to have him home. And we've always been appreciative to have kids in Maine - we're so lucky we can go play in the backyard or sneak to the beach. We were appreciative before but we've really taken full advantage of that now.
On that note, my daughter has lived longer in Maine than in Boston where she was born - and I know how lucky she is. As two Mainers, what’s it like growing up here? And PS: this house is still the stomping ground for the neighborhood, kids just walk in and out of our yard all day for manhunt games - as they are doing right now as you can see in the background! It’s awesome.
LAISEE: I was going to say we were so happy that you guys had moved into that house because what makes Maine so special is the people and the sense of community. It was important to us that a nice family moved in and added to the neighborhood. Our kids get to grow up around people that are hardworking, grounded, kind. Whether it's a neighbor across the street or someone supporting Luke at work, I feel like there's a community that supports each other and they root for each other. And then also just being able to connect with nature. To be outside, in the woods or at the beach - that was important to us that our kids could be outside which I think is just the best way to learn and grow.
LUKE: Poppy will have her commercial lobstering license when she’s seven years old.
Ha! Well, I can confirm everyone in this neighborhood is doing great. Okay, for a fun question: What is your perfect date night in Maine? Favorite restaurant?
LUKE: Our first date was actually lobstering. I took Laisee out on Saco River and we went lobstering down at Wood Island and we still have some traps down there. The two of us love to be on the water - especially in the summertime there’s nothing more beautiful than that. We’ll go out and catch lobsters, stripers, catch dinner - and ultimately we love going out and harvesting and then coming home and making something as simple as lobster mac and cheese.
I think our favorite place to eat - we’re such a fan of Chef Ginn over at Evo. Anytime we get an opportunity to support him and everything that he's doing, we’re kind of all in on that in addition to getting just a really good meal.
What’s your order at Scratch Bakery? Cookie Jar?
LAISEE: Our new house is right in between Scratch and Cookie Jar and people thought we bought it because of that reason. Big Cookie Jar fans. We actually had it at our wedding and it's a good way to get the kids in the strollers - like, there's a treat at the end! We get the sugar cookies at Cookie Jar and at Scratch - I think that Poppy ate a scratch muffin everyday for the last two summers.
And my last question: what would your last meals on Earth be?
LAISEE: My last meal would be blueberry pancakes. I hate to admit this but we ate them for dinner last night. But there’s only one chef in this household and it’s definitely not me.
LUKE: We heard a lot of rumblings last night while she's trying to make these blueberry pancakes. My last meal would be a surf and turf. Just steak and grilled lobster tails.
Well, that's all I have for you guys and I am super appreciate of your time. Want to see a little of what we’ve done to the house? (Awkward showing of the kitchen here.) There’s good juju in this house.
LAISEE: I was there for almost 10 years. At the beginning I was in my 20s and traveling all the time and there was just a suitcase - and by the end I was bringing Poppy home from the hospital and I was married. A lot of memories in that house.
Okay, okay. Two kind and down to earth Mainers. And after this, instead of hiding, I might even say hi to them if I see them around town.
...But this is only entry one, y’all.
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