Native Son

Paul Leddy aboard his wooden sailboat Crazy Horse.

Paul Leddy aboard his wooden sailboat Crazy Horse.

Paul Leddy aboard his wooden sailboat Crazy Horse.

Paul Leddy aboard his wooden sailboat Crazy Horse.

Leddy stands on new flooring on the third level of the Williston-West Church’s bell tower; the plywood will be covered with birch planks, some of them salvaged from the original structure.

PROFILE – November, 2012
by Sarah Stebbins | Photography C.A. Smith Photography

Builder, ice cream entrepreneur, and hometown guy Paul Leddy is making his mark on the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge with handcrafted techniques and a neighborly flavor.

Paul Leddy is pretty hard to miss. With his Richard Gere–style mane, deep tan, and rugged build, he looks more SoCal than SoPo. And yet, he has been a fixture in the South Portland community for more than 30 years.

Early in the morning during the warm months, you can glimpse him making ice cream inside gourmet ice cream shop Willard Scoops, a cacophony of whirring machinery and Buffalo Springfield tunes filling the brightly colored storefront. He then bounces between the Ocean Street offices of Leddy Houser Associates, the general contracting business he runs with partner Peter Houser; a workshop on Buttonwood Street, where he creates custom cabinetry, furniture, and millwork for the company’s clients; and various job sites. When he’s not working, you can find him fixing up his own home on Willard Beach, walking in the sand with his two toy dogs (and often hauling twisted pieces of driftwood, a hallmark of his furniture), or rowing a skiff out to his 1951 pilot sloop Crazy Horse (named in part for the band that played with Neil Young, a favorite musician). The boat is one of only three wooden vessels floating in the harbor off Willard Beach.

Despite their hectic schedules, in 2008 Leddy and his wife, Jennifer, a program analyst for Martin’s Point Health Care, decided to venture into the ice cream business. Part of their goal was to bring more life to their beloved Willard Square. “We’ve been in the neighborhood a long time, and we remember when there was nothing happening here,” says Leddy, who also sold his former office building across the street from Willard Scoops to the owners of Scratch Baking Co. in 2004. “I thought it would be great to have a bakery here,” he says. (If the long line of customers waiting for bagels on Sunday mornings is any indication, the rest of the community agrees.) The couple spent a winter teaching themselves to make ice cream, and they “nailed some good recipes,” says Leddy. Last year, they opened a second Willard Scoops in Kennebunk.

Connecting all of Leddy’s endeavors is a commitment to quality and honest, traditional techniques. “We spend a lot of time looking around for the best ingredients for our ice cream,” says Leddy, as he stirs simmering pots of salt caramel at Willard Scoops one morning. “Then, in addition to the ice cream, we make things like hot fudge. It’s laborious, but I actually really enjoy that part of it.” The couple chose the Baltic sea salt used in their salt-caramel ice cream from among 60-plus varieties offered by a specialty salt purveyor. They purchase produce from Native Maine, a wholesaler that supplies many local products, and their cocoa and chocolate bars are from Ghirardelli. And each spring, the Leddys order a hundred boxes of Thin Mints cookies from Girl Scouts of Maine in South Portland—enough to make a season’s worth of their Thin Mint ice cream.

Leddy’s philosophy of not taking any shortcuts applies to building as well. “Paul and Peter helped us stick to our budget by designing a slightly smaller house than we had originally planned, but with really high-quality products,” says client Rick Loring, whose saltbox-style home in Cape Elizabeth features wood siding and floors, wood-framed windows, and custom cedar-framed porch screens. “We don’t miss the extra square footage because the house is so functional, with no wasted space,” says Loring. Leddy designed floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases for the living room and den, with thoughtful details such as a hinged panel incorporated into the shelving that provides access to a utility box. “You’d never know it was there,” says Loring. The kitchen’s centerpiece is an antique heart-pine island that Leddy built in the shape of a baseball diamond. The warm surface helps balance the gray Brazilian-soapstone countertops and white cabinetry used elsewhere in the room. It’s “a really special touch,” says Loring.

Throughout his life and career, Leddy has remained committed to wood as a building material, despite some well-known drawbacks (maintenance, maintenance, and, er, maintenance). “Believe me, every spring when I’m scraping, sanding, and painting my boat, I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this again?'” he says. “But I love the smell, the feel, and the way a wood hull glides through the water—just like I love the texture of wood clapboards or shingles on a home.” Spending so much time working on something, whether it’s a sailboat or shelves, brings a sense of trust and pride. “There’s security in knowing the condition of each plank and how everything is put together, particularly when you’re out on the ocean,” says Leddy.

A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Leddy learned construction as a teenager when he worked for a carpenter on Great Diamond Island, where his family summered. When he was 15, the family relocated to South Portland. After high school, he earned a degree in building construction from what is now Southern Maine Community College. He was a subcontractor for a few years before starting a general contracting company, working first with a friend and then on his own. In 1995 he forged a partnership with Peter Houser. “I care deeply about this area, and I’ve never tired of it,” says Leddy, who still gets together with some of his high school buddies, including brothers Mark and Joe Loring, the owners of the Saltwater Grille and Joe’s Boathouse respectively.

Whatever he’s doing, Leddy seems to embody all the breeziness of a track on Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. Cheerfully pivoting between the ice-cream-making apparatuses inside Willard Scoops or ferrying a writer around Casco Bay in his boat, his bare foot on the tiller and a wide smile on his face, he appears at peace and completely in control. And you begin to understand how he can juggle so many divergent pursuits.

And how he can be poised to take on more. “Jen and I love to fix up properties to resell or market as vacation rentals—we’d like to do more of that,” says Leddy. Another dream they have is to open a restaurant on the land they own on Pillsbury Street next to Willard Scoops. “I have this vision of all the little storefronts on the square with their lights on at night and this restaurant being a warm, friendly place to come with your family,” says Leddy.

Listening to him speak, you feel certain that he will build it. And all the rest of us will come.