BERLIN — Opportunities have to be acted upon when they present themselves, says Adam Hammill, which is why he has opened Exile Burrito.
Born and raised in East Bremerton, Wash., Hammill, 36, ended up on the east side of the country during a 12-year career in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he rose to the rank of petty officer second class.
In his duties, Hammill oversaw the operation of Coast Guard kitchens in Seattle, Newport, and, most recently in Portsmouth/New Castle.
When his Coast Guard career ended, Hammill looked around for what to do next and saw that the Federal Correctional Institution in Berlin was hiring, and he signed on as cook supervisor.
After six years, however, “I realized a pension wasn’t worth it,” said Hammill, during an interview on June 16, and he began exploring the next phase of his life.
But instead of going back west, Hammill stayed put in the City That Trees Built, and began researching what he could do there, food-wise.
According to Hammill, of the more than a dozen restaurants in Berlin, nearly all of them serve pizza, but none served Mexican food.
In fact, there’s no such food being offered in a “quick-service” format anywhere within an hour of the city, Hammill said.
Last summer, when a former Chinese restaurant on Main Street, almost directly across the street from City Hall, was put up for sale at a tax-lien auction, Hammill watched with interest as the property was acquired by the Berlin Main Street Program (BMSP).
Later, the BMSP agreed to sell the property to Hammill for no more than it paid — $6,600 — and the city “worked tremendously” with him, said Hammill, to resolve several years of outstanding taxes.
In March, after Gov. Chris Sununu defined what businesses are essential and could remain open during his stay-at-home orders, Exile Burrito — the moniker, said Hammill, is in part, a tongue-in-cheek homage to an album by the Rolling Stones — began taking shape.
After investing $100,000, Hammill opened Exile Burrito on May 15.
He started with take-out and curbside pick-up only.
Later, as Gov. Sununu eased restrictions on restaurants, Hammill expanded to socially-distanced outdoor dining, and, as of last Monday, to limited indoor dining.
The response to Exile Burrito has been “very positive,” said Hammill.
The business community is happy to see a local family investing in the area, said Paula Kinney, executive director of Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“They have taken an empty building and brought so much life to it and our Main Street,” she said via email.
“And most importantly, their hospitality is top notch, and they are offering some of the best Mexican food around.”
In the run-up to its opening, Exile Burrito already had 1,000 followers on Facebook, Hammill said, and the number has steadily risen.
Hammill said he measures success in the number of repeat customers “and I see some customers three times a week.”
“But in a social media world,” he continued, “good is not good enough, and it’s about exceeding people’s expectations” which is what Exile Burrito strive to do every day.