HANCOCK — Forty-one years ago Richard Malaby traveled from his Washington, D.C., home to check out the Crocker House Country Inn for the first time.
His plane landed in Bangor and as he drove through Dedham to get to the property that he was considering purchasing from then-owner Bill Moise, he looked out at Phillips Lake, which was still covered in ice in early April.
“It kind of scared the hell out of me,” Malaby said. He had just traveled from the land of cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Four decades later, Malaby and his wife, Liz, have sold the business to Robert and Janette Noddin and their son, Joshua, who will operate the inn’s upcoming season starting this spring.
But back in 1980, Malaby had never lived in Maine before, or anywhere rural. Dirt roads and septic systems were new discoveries.
“There were a lot of shocks that first year,” he recalled.
However Malaby, who was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Long Island, N.Y., was too driven to give up.
“I’m kind of a driven person. I was not going to let myself fail,” he said. He was also determined to be self-employed.
That first summer, Malaby brought restaurant experience from his work in Stone Harbor, N.J., and D.C.
He and Moise worked out the details of the purchase before Moise passed away later that year.
“I was cooking every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Malaby said.
Friends and family flocked to help him that first year, when the motto was “Put your head down and work.”
In the mid-1980s, Malaby started offering catering services on Hancock Point.
“I got to know the families, they got to know me,” he said, which culminated in locals supporting his work, especially after they saw him sticking it out in Maine.
As a result, Malaby would spend the next four decades developing meaningful relationships with customers at the inn, perfecting weddings, anniversaries and memorial services for families who often became repeat customers.
Malaby recalled a quiet night in early June several years ago when about 16 people occupied the inn’s dining room.
A member of his wait staff came into the kitchen to tell him, “Every couple here, you did their wedding.”
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Malaby said. “I’ve established relationships with so many different people.”
There have also been struggles.
After all, Malaby’s ownership of the inn has been bookended by global crises, beginning with the oil embargo in the 1970s, which greatly affected travel, and ending with the coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry.
His perseverance, which got him through the inn’s early years, was especially helpful amid an ongoing pandemic.
“Last year was tough,” Malaby said, but once again, “I was not going to let this thing defeat me.”
Malaby said the inn stayed open and was fortunate to receive funding from the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program.
“We got through it,” he said. “It wasn’t easy and it was certainly scary to start.”
Malaby has experienced this journey with his wife, Liz, who he married in 1984 after Liz worked at the inn the year before. Together they raised their three children.
He then became very involved in the community, serving nearly 18 years as a board member for the Hancock Grammar School and nine years on the board of Maine Coast Memorial Hospital (now Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital), where he also served as chairman.
For eight years, he was a state representative for District 136.
In 2009, he was named Hancock’s Citizen of the Year.
“For the community to support us, we had to support them,” Malaby said of his work outside the inn.
His public service often merged with his world at the Crocker House.
Some years, Malaby would travel from legislative meetings in Augusta straight to his bustling restaurant.
“I would drive home at 3 p.m. and the Crocker House was opening at 5 o’clock. That was crazy,” he said.
So, what does he plan to do with his next chapter?
“I’m not sure,” Malaby said. “The first thing I want to do is enjoy a summer.”
While he has spent decades orchestrating special occasions and creating long-lasting memories for guests of the inn, Malaby shared that is has been since 1978 that he went to the beach to sit and enjoy doing absolutely nothing.
“I would like to find something that keeps me interested,” he added. He also plans to take and print photographs, travel, visit family, garden and work on his house.
He will remain close by.
“I’m only right around the corner,” he said.
This is helpful for new owners, the Noddin family, who are currently working with Malaby amid the inn’s ownership transition.
Along with co-owning the business, Joshua will be the chef and manager. He spent last season working in the Crocker House kitchen.
While Joshua was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and spent his youth living in several Asian countries, his family on his father’s side has had a house on Hancock Point since the 1920s.
Joshua shared that every time he moved growing up, which was often, he had to adapt to a new school and new surroundings.
“But I always knew every single summer, I could look forward to coming back to Maine,” he said.
That meant dinners at the Crocker House, including the dinner to celebrate his college graduation in 2016 from College of the Atlantic.
He has extensive culinary experience from the time he spent in Los Angeles, where he worked with restaurants and companies that catered red carpet events such as the Grammys and the Golden Globe Awards.
The family plans to offer the classic meals that have had customers coming back for decades. The upcoming season already has three times the number of catering events booked than it did last year.
After this inaugural season, Joshua plans to add to the menu.
For Joshua, cooking and hosting are second nature, thanks to his desire “to share my cultural experiences from living abroad through food and story.”