FALL RIVER — Spring marks a season of new beginnings, and that is especially true at one of Fall River’s well-known waterfront restaurants.
The tide is turning on the SouthCoast dining scene as LePage’s Seafood and Grille — a city staple for over three decades — changes hands.
But fear not, faithful patrons. New owner Jon Paul Van Regenmorter and partner Kayla Botelho promise to stay true to the LePage’s that locals have come to know and love while mixing in “new and exciting” things.
It’ll have the same name. The same beautiful setting. The same winning recipes. The same homey atmosphere. But with new faces at the helm bringing some fresh ideas.
“I don’t want it to be something else. … I want somebody who’s been comfortable there for 20 years to come back for another 20 years,” said Van Regenmorter.
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The pair’s vision for the future of the 439 Martine St. eatery doesn’t stray far from its roots. And they pay tribute to its SouthCoast setting — nestled amid local fishing and farming communities — with LePage’s new slogan “A Farmcoast Affair.”
Van Regenmorter is a man whose passion for life and adventure has opened many doors for the self-described dreamer.
“I believe in potential, I believe in opportunity, I believe in people… I dream of all three and I hope that never stops,” Van Regenmorter said.
The longtime Tiverton resident and dentist wears many hats. He owns four dental practices — Dutchman Dental locations in Tiverton and Fall River, and general dental practices in Fall River and Wakefield, the latter two he is selling.
Van Regenmorter, who came to the SouthCoast by way of South Dakota, also owns an oyster farm in Tiverton, has a commercial fishing license and owns a business that makes snowmaking equipment for ski resorts.
A longtime LePage’s regular, Van Regenmorter had eyed the location for years, seeing in it a tremendous opportunity even amid challenges presented by the pandemic.
“It’s a place where I felt comfortable, it’s a great location on the water and I have always seen potential there,” he said.
Carol and Eric LePage retired
When friends and former owners Carol and Eric LePage announced their plans to retire this past month after 34 years, he didn’t hesitate to step in.
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“It was my honor and privilege. It was very very humbling,” he said. “Carol and Eric could have chosen anyone to take over and they chose me because they know I dream, and I believe, and I would do something good.”
He officially closed on the sale of LePage’s on May 4.
Van Regenmorter referred to LePage’s as his “last big adventure” for a while. He will be mostly hands off at the restaurant, as well as his other businesses, putting all his faith and trust in the hands of 32-year-old Botelho — a long term equity partner at LePage’s who will serve as general manager — and the team they’ve built there.
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“I’m just really excited and happy that something like this was offered to me because this is definitely the business I was meant to be in… I’m just excited to see what comes,” said Botelho, who will be the face of LePage’s and in charge of day-to-day operations.
Manager worked at area restaurants
Botelho, a 15-year veteran in the restaurant business, has been working her way up the ranks at Greater Fall River eateries “her whole life” — from bussing at the Liberal Club in Fall River, which is owned by her uncle, to serving as waitress and bartender at Fall River’s Mesa 21. Most recently she was general manager at Westport’s popular restaurant and event venue Bittersweet Farm.
Plans to strike up a partnership came about as most do — after a talk over teeth cleaning in the dentist chair.
Van Regenmorter has been a friend of Botelho’s for many years, and she has been a patient at his dental practice since she was a kid.
Looking to step away from the restaurant industry, Botelho took at job at Buzzards Bay Coalition for a few months before quickly realizing that “office life is not for me… I needed chaos.”
Botelho had just quit Buzzards Bay and was headed back to LaFrance Hospitality when Van Regenmorter proposed she hop on board at LePage’s.
“It was just the right timing,” she said.
Since joining LePage’s about a month ago, Botelho has been working with the staff and previous owners, who helped show her the lay of the land, while also helping to carve out a vision for this new chapter of LePage’s.
“I’ve been here for the past month and what I’m seeing is people really enjoy the food and the atmosphere… people get that welcoming, homey feel when they walk in. They are greeted by an awesome staff here and the food is always really great, so we’re definitely going to keep that,” Botelho said.
LePage’s popular menu items will stay
LePage’s will continue to offer dishes for just about every taste, including pasta dishes, such as lobster mac and cheese, shrimp scampi and chicken Mozambique, as well as various classic baked and fried seafood dishes and platters.
Botelho said the menu at LePage’s will remain largely the same, with some tweaks that include the addition of daily specials and a focus on fresh local catch.
“We are in such a great location right now, between all the farmers in the area so we do want to bring in a lot more fresh products,” Botelho said.
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They aim to incorporate morefresh fish into the menu — some Van Regenmorter himself will help catch on his boat named Moxie, which he keeps docked at Sakonnet Point — as well as oysters from his farm. LePage’s also plans to partner with other local fishermen and farmers.
Local farmers and fishermen
“We want to emphasize that things are here so that people understand that we put our money back in our community and that’s something I’ve always done,” Van Regenmorter said.
“We’ll have some unique offerings that not everyone else is going to have,” he added.
The building is currently undergoing a refresh, with interior upgrades to give the space a more farmhouse/industrial type look.
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“I want people to notice over time, there won’t be anything drastic,” Van Regenmorter said.
Renovations and improvements include painting, remodeling of the dining room area, the addition of a bar and a new point-of-sale system aimed at increasing efficiency — offering “the same or better service in a more timely manner.”
LePage’s — currently closed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — will be keeping the same days and hours of operation for the time being to give them a chance to make these updates.
They are open Sunday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Once summer approaches, Botelho said they will likely extend those hours.
Botelho’s forte is in event planning and in her new role she would love to promote more special events throughout the year such as paint nights, flower arranging classes and birthday parties.
It’s a great option for the summer with the deck set up outside, she said, and they already have a couple lined up for June.
LePage’s clam boils will continue
LePage’s is well-known for its clam boils and community events, which Botelho said they will continue to host as well, while also honing in on smaller-scale events to bring in new faces.
Botelho said she is also working on revamping LePage’s bar selection, which will include a variety of craft beers. Their long-term plan is to add a rooftop bar overlooking Watuppa Pond, maybe a year down the road.
Going forward, the pair’s goal for LePage’s is to see it get bigger and better. And they are encouraged by the response they’ve received from LePage’s customers and the community.
“It’s nice to see that people are enjoying LePage’s for what it is currently but are excited to see the changes we are going to bring as well,” Botelho said.