by Jillian Netherland | photography by David Fuller
Take a stroll down Lewiston’s lower Lisbon Street and your eyes are sure to be caught by Obscura Café and Drinkery – a unique venue for a drink and a bite to eat that has become a welcome sanctuary and meeting place for customers from all walks of life.
A passion project in the making
Long-time friends Angie LaFrance and Corey DuFour shared a dream of creating a community-safe space around food, drink, and the arts. As artists immersed in the LA arts scene, LaFrance and DuFour were well acquainted with the flagship location of the Lamey-Wellehan building.
“I remember skateboarding past it all the time and loved the Art Deco architecture,” recalls DuFour. “Seeing the interior and how much potential the building had really inspired us in what we hoped to achieve in a business someday.”
The duo’s dream ended up being not far off in the distance. Jim Wellehan, Lamey-Wellehan President, recognized DuFour and LaFrance from the local art markets, and allowed the two to bring the markets inside the building for the winter months. When the opportunity to inhabit the building presented itself, LaFrance and DuFour approached Wellehan with their concept, and he agreed. Once the pair received the go-ahead, LaFrance approached a mutual friend, Nate Hines, about joining as a third co-owner.
“I thought it was a great idea, something I’d like to see in the LA area,” Hines shares. “I wanted to be part of building up the downtown area more and was on board to help wherever I could.”
Silver lining in a delayed start
With business partners in place and a brick-and-mortar location, it seemed as if everything was ready to go, minus one hiccup in the plans – it was the year 2020.
“It was an interesting time for sure, being in lockdown, checking CDC guidelines, and what implications this had for brand new businesses,” LaFrance remembers. “But it also gave us the time to really conceptualize what we wanted and work on the building to bring that vision to life – I don’t think we would have had the time to put in as much planning as we did otherwise.”
Rebuilt with love and respect
Transitioning the building from a shoe store to a café was a true labor of love for the owners. Being amateur Lewiston historians, preserving the original architectural style was important. With newfound time on his hands due to the pandemic, DuFour was able to complete all necessary carpentry work himself or with the assistance of someone close to home.
“The big spiral staircase wasn’t original to the building, but my father, the late Don DuFour, was a master at building these, and building in general,” shares DuFour. “The staircase has since become an architectural draw – it’s unique and people really enjoy it.”
The now iconic staircase was built from black and walnut shelving, and it’s not the only repurposed piece in Obscura. All of the original shoe shelving was removed to build different portions of the café, including the two bars.
The right people with the right vision
Despite the circumstances prior to opening, the Obscura concept could not have been in more capable hands. All three owners had experience in business, bartending, and food management. Additionally, LaFrance has a background in advertising and marketing, allowing all art and branding to be conducted in-house, ensuring one cohesive experience. What really set the stage for success, though, was the passion and dedication shared amongst the owners.
“We were born and raised here with a sense of hometown pride and loyalty passed down from families who also run small businesses in this town,” LaFrance explains. “We’ve seen pictures and spoken with residents who remember downtown Lewiston as a restaurant, shop, and club center – we wanted to see it come back to life.”
Something for everyone
Today, Obscura boasts a menu as unique as its aesthetics, utilizing local produce and supporting other local small businesses as they can. In addition to beer, wine, cider, and canned cocktails, Obscura offers a wide variety of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options to be inclusive of anyone stopping in for something to eat or drink. Fan favorites include a soup panini described as hand-held French onion soup, dill pickle grilled cheese, and The Great Cubini, Obscura’s take on a Cuban sandwich.
“We receive a lot of feedback on the dietary options we offer because there aren’t many out there,” Hines explains. “We have customers tell us about food they’ve tried that they haven’t been able to find, and we’re aways seeing if it’s something we can include on the menu.”
In addition to serving food and drinks, Obscura is always hosting entertainment, aiming to showcase an event each evening. Many of these events are centered on the arts, including open poetry readings every third Thursday of the month, acoustic open mic nights the last Thursday of each month, and paint parties with Wicked Illustration. Other popular events include karaoke every other Friday, comedy acts the first Saturday of each month with Great Falls Comedy, featuring local comedians opening for a headliner from national tours, and Second Saturday Social in partnership with social club, LA It’s Happening Queer.
“This is the kind of stuff we dreamed of and love to see,” shares DuFour. “Obscura has become a hub for the creative and people of all walks of life are accepted and safe here – we’ve gotten to know so many members of our community from seeing them regularly at these events.”
Keeping the [heart] beat
Obscura posts all of their events on Facebook and Instagram and also offers online ordering for those looking for a taste of Obscura at home – however, a trip to the café and drinkery is worth it for the ambience, entertainment, local artist gallery, and simply connecting with others in the community.
“That’s what truly makes it worthwhile, especially after the pandemic and how long people were separated and secluded,” LaFrance shares. “The heart of downtown is the heartbeat of the city – we are dedicated to our customers and supporting our fellow business owners in keeping it going.”
Obscura Café & Drinkery
Lewiston | obscuramaine.com