Keith Lemerise: 25 Grateful Years
By Steve Dunfey
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, August 5, 2009
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene]
Keith Lemerise is glad to be alive. 25 years ago he was the grateful recipient of a donated kidney from his brother Gregg, after spending a year on dialysis. We on the Seacoast are lucky to have him around doing all the things he does. Lemerise is presently publisher of Taste of The Seacoast magazine and owner of the Trends Gift Shop and Invitation Studio in Exeter, which he founded over 20 years ago. Lemerise and his wife Kathy both live in Brentwood with their children Alex age 14 and Sophie age 8. He is part of a family has left their mark on the community, especially in Hampton where Keith's father Bernie owned the Rainbow Village on 'P' Street at Hampton Beach and served as Chair of the Hampton Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The family became so highly regarded that when it became time to finance the kidney donation, more than 500 people came out for a fundraiser at the Ashworth Hotel at Hampton Beach. It was a remarkable turnout and a landmark event for the community. For Keith Lemerise it has meant 25 years of good life that he is very thankful for.
The Lemerise family arrived in Hampton Beach from Haverhill in 1969, including Keith's mother Louise and brothers Gregg and Chris. Keith wound up at the University of Hawaii as a hotel and restaurant management major. He was about to switch his major to marketing in 1983 and then, "I didn't feel up to par and missed some classes. When kidneys start to fail, toxins build up in the blood. I started to eat healthier and then potassium built up in the blood. I was diagnosed with kidney disease and went on dialysis treatments for a year." According to Lemerise, "My father was bummed out. I was 21 years old and insurance didn't pay for anything."
In December 1983, word of Lemerise's situation spread and the community swung into action. The Ashworth fundraiser raised $32,000 for Keith's medical bills. Much of the credit for the success for the fundraiser went to Co-Chairs Joyce Grandmaison and June Bean. Their committee members included Marge and Gerry Dignam, Jim Kennedy, Bob Wallace, Kay Tinios, Charlotte Preston, Joe Hurley, Fred and Shirley Delaney, Mike and Eileen Daboul, Chuck and Peggy Herbert, Dot Spinney, Melody Dahl and Jim Goodwin. Donations for the event's food came from the Ashworth, Bev Hollingworth, the Galley Hatch, and the Widow Fletcher's Tavern. Overall, expectations were more than met as donations came "from friends, classmates, business and civic groups." The spontaneous success of this event received much attention in the media and Lemerise notes that, "Nowadays there are a lot of these types of fundraisers."
It then turned out that Keith's mother and brother Gregg were a match in terms of being kidney donors. Brother Gregg made the donation and the transplant was made at Children's Hospital in Boston. The battle for Keith's health did not quite end there. He needs to take anti-rejection drugs and at one time was taking large doses of Prednisone everyday. There were serious side effects that required some joint replacements. But none of that slows or disappoints Keith Lemerise. He has a knack for business and marketing. His Taste of The Seacoast is now in its tenth year of publication. Lemerise is aware of the fact that both the magazine and the restaurant business are very difficult to survive in. He has managed to more than survive working with both.
Lemerise started his business career with a sunglass stand at the Springfield Hotel. He was supposed open a shop at the Lincoln House and when the deal fell through Fred Schaake offered him some space at the Casino. He also worked at the then Club Casino operated by Jimmy Goodwin. He sold 'billboard' advertising space at high traffic restaurant locations. Then, in 1986, Lemerise opened the Trends Gift Gallery and Invitation Studio now at 37 Water Street in Exeter. Kathy Lemerise married Keith in 1991 and she now runs that shop while Keith publishes the magazine. And Taste of The Seacoast is not the only successful magazine he has started. Lemerise created Accent Home & Garden Magazine in 2003 and sold it to the Dodds family of Rye in 2005. It is still published today by Network Communications Incorporated of Lawrenceville, Georgia, the largest real estate magazine publisher in the country. "The Taste magazine came before Accent," says Lemerise. "It began with just a listing of menus that I supplied to hotels. Then I got the editorial bug and put in some stories and phased the menus out."
"We are publishing twice a year but we will go to quarterly," Lemerise continues. "We also have a very strong website. You have got to have a balance with both. E-mail blasts are another revenue stream. We also offer coupons online and offer gift certificates from all the best restaurants. The Seacoast is a dining destination. There is so much opportunity in the Seacoast with all the different niches. It's a knack for niche products that there is a demand for. I am creating new things all the time. It's great to live in this area. I am glad to have the opportunity to invest in new products. I have a big passion for this. The restaurants need me now more than ever. We promote culinary excellence with our "Best Of' poll with 60 different categories."
Being the publisher of a hospitality magazine has its perks. Lemerise often serves as a judge for the various chili and chowder festivals that take place in Portsmouth. Taste also sponsors the Tiki Bar at the top level of the Thomas Laighton tour boat operated by the Isles of Shoals, Steamship Company in Portsmouth harbor. There are the Best of Taste Top Twenty Restaurant rankings. On January 15 of next year, Taste will co-sponsor a wine festival with the Wentworth By The Sea. There will be a kickoff gala with the top twenty restaurants there. Lemerise also often appears on the popular TV Diner show on the NECN cable channel where he reports to the viewing public across New England on the Seacoast culinary scene from Boston to Portland. In the near future, Lemerise looks forward to putting together tours of four restaurants at a time during their off hours.
The Lemerise family recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the brotherly kidney donation in late April with a special family dinner at the Old Salt in Hampton. Keith, now 46 years old, says, "I am grateful to my brother because I wouldn't have my wife and kids, my family, the magazine. None of it would have been possible without Gregg" As for what he is doing now, Lemerise simply says, "It's a great gig."