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A store for ravenous readers

By JASON WILKINS  |  April 25, 2007

Portland, which has long been a city devoted both to reading and eating, now has a bookstore dedicated to books about food.

Rabelais Books opened its doors with little fanfare earlier this month April on Middle Street, within sniffing distance of several quality eateries: Hugo’s, Duckfat, and Bresca, among others. The store was first conceived a few months ago, when Samantha Hoyt Lindgren and her husband Don drove past a vacant storefront on their way to Micucci’s. The idea hit them with a “Boom!” says Samantha. “It seemed like a good place to put a food bookstore.”

The Lindgrens have plenty of professional experience with verbiage and viands. Don has worked with books for a quarter-century as a literary curator and appraiser (when not working in Artist Development for Sony Music International). Samantha toiled for a time as a “stressed-out photo editor” at such magazines as Forbes and People before switching gears to become “a stressed-out pastry chef” in both New York and Vacationland.

These city folk eventually chose to live on a farm in Alfred, complete with a garden and various canines and felines and fowl, because “we wanted to be more connected to the land, more connected to what we eat,” Don explains. He gestures to the newly stocked shelves at Rabelais Books and says, “this is a way to extend that.”

The store will offer new, used, and out-of-print books about cooking, eating, farming, and gardening. The owners envision the store as a place to facilitate “the conversation between farmers and chefs” (quoth Don) and “reach out to people who are serious about cooking” (saith Samantha). For instance, the Lindgrens plan to install a large chalkboard that will feature tasty recipes, the books in which they can be found, and the local vendors who can supply fresh ingredients for them.

Don admits that Rabelais is “swimming against the tide,” since independent bookstores have been closing nationwide at a distressing rate. Nevertheless, “I believe in books,” he insists. “People need to see them and touch them. I believe in collecting as a good thing.” Both Lindgrens believe that Portland is approaching a kind of culinary critical mass: Slow Food Portland draws full houses to its literary events — even in horrible weather — while the Food Network and Food & Wine magazine praise the city’s dining from coast to coast.

“It would be nice to come somewhere and have an impact,” says Samantha. In a store named for the author of Pantagruel, a book about a giant whose motto was “eat, drink, and be merry,” they may well do just that.

Rabelais Books | 86 Middle St, Portland | 207.774.1044

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