Steuben’s Leaches work hard, but enjoy life too
STEUBEN — Three hardworking sisters have created livelihoods by providing people with “life’s essentials” — gourmet cheesecake, a welcoming tavern with creative cocktails and freshly scrubbed houses.
In 2016, the Leaches’ middle child, Brenda “Momo” Ledezma, started Momo’s Cheesecakes Bakery in Ellsworth, selling wedges and whole cakes of cherry, strawberry and other flavors out of her Outer Main Street garage on the honor system. Now she and her employees fill orders for 20 wholesale accounts, making between 80 and 100 cheesecakes daily.
The youngest sister, Nadine Barnes, works for Momo as her assistant and does all the marketing and has two nieces who also work for her.
And, still, the demand is greater than what they can handle at this point, says Barnes. “We keep getting more requests but have unfortunately had to say no.”
While Barnes works for sis full time doing her marketing, she has worked as a property manager and cleaner for the past 30 years.
As a girl, Barnes knew of Winter Harbor’s longtime Grindstone Neck caretaker Larry Smith Sr. and that he might be a source of work for her.
“As soon as I turned 16 and had my driver’s license, I went down and asked if he had any houses for me to clean,” she recalled. “He liked how I cleaned and he kept giving me more and more houses.”
That was 30 years ago.
“I’ve tried quitting several times on my clients,” said Barnes. But they won’t have it. Barnes’ cousin Tammy Snider has worked alongside her for 20 years.
This summer Barnes has been helping her youngest daughter, Raquel, who’s 18, start her own Airbnb property. Raquel also works full-time for Aunt Momo.
Meanwhile, Leisa Crowley, the eldest sister of all five Leach siblings (brothers are Steuben fishermen), with a few business partners, opened Ole 98 Tavern on Route 1 in Steuben.
“I just love bartending,” said Crowley. “I’ve done it all and I just come back to this. I love it.”
Opening last September, the western-themed tavern functioned technically as a pub for a spell. During the COVID-19 pandemic, under the state’s rules, Crowley could only operate if she served food. So, for months, she spent the early part of the week making spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and other hearty fare as well as steak and cheese sandwiches to serve her customers when the bar was open at week’s end.
You might remember Crowley if you ever dined or drank at 44 North in Milbridge. She tended bar there for eight years. Or, if you ever patronized the Leach family’s former Port Side Take Out that the sisters ran with their parents years ago in Steuben.
Seasonal Steuben residents Michael and Sharon DeChiara recently stopped by Ole 98 Tavern for Crowley’s steak and cheese sandwiches, which are no more. The couple settled instead for pints of cold beer on the deck, aka “the playpen,” with a plan to have hot dogs when they got home.
But Crowley’s drink menu extends beyond beer and wine. She has created several of her own cocktails — drinks you might find familiar like a lemon drop or a hurricane — but with her own secret twist. She did spill the ingredients for a customer favorite, the Cowboy Brew, which has blueberry vodka, lemonade and blue curacao served with a lemon twist. Crowley said her beer drinkers are even enjoying that one.
A couple of young fishermen came in after the DeChiaras. One ordered a “Dirty Shirley,” which is grenadine, sprite and vodka.
The other ordered a Coke.
“Did you have a bad night?” Crowley asked, concerned.
“No, I’m hauling tomorrow,” the young man replied.
Across the bar, another regular, Marlene “Marty” Collis, enjoyed a beer and chitchat.
“This is the best place to come down here,” she said.
Open most nights, Ole 98 Tavern will feature karaoke soon. There is dancing. The music is currently supplied by an Echo, a voice-controlled smart speaker, developed by Amazon. The Echo was a gift from sister Nadine.
The Echo will play whatever customers tell it to play.
Crowley said she had music streaming from the speaker while she and her partners were building the bar and when they first opened.
“For now, it will have to do,” Crowley said she told herself at the time. “Now I can’t get rid of it. Sometimes, there’s a tug of war over it.”
Someone will yell out a song that starts playing and if another customer isn’t happy, he or she will yell out a different song and so on and so forth.
The sisters have two brothers, Russell and David Leach who are each fisherman in Steuben.
Where did the entrepreneurial spirit start for the siblings?
Barnes credits their mother, Theresa Leach, and their late father, Charles Leach, for instilling in all of them a strong work ethic and a drive to succeed.
“Honestly, growing up, our parents had it hard and we never realized it,” said Barnes.
“There were five of us kids. Anything we wanted, we had to earn ourselves. It just instilled that work ethic,” she remembers. “Our parents were always doing multiple jobs. My mom used to do seasonal work. They’d brush all day and then make wreaths all evening.”
Charles fished and did artwork on the side, including three-dimensional pieces and nautical artwork.
“He did some carvings too and weathervanes and different things and my mother did little crafts too,” said Barnes. “They had a little building out by the road.
“Self-employment — I think we grew up in that world,” she said. “Doing whatever you have to do to get by — however.”
The Leach family’s work ethic is being passed down to the next generations.
“My youngest daughter, she’s been cleaning houses with me since she was 11,” said Barnes.
“We’re a close family,” the youngest sister said. “Growing up, family was always the number one thing. Even when we don’t see each other a whole lot. We have a lot of kids and the cousins are best friends with each other.
These days, the Leach sisters are trying to give themselves a break to make time to get away together. They want to relax and have some fun. They just got back from a weekend in Old Orchard Beach.