2014 was a very busy year for the food and dining industry in Portland. I’ve scanned through the records for the past year and here’s my summary of the key events and trends:
- Best Newcomers – There were more than 40 openings in 2014. Some lasted a few months or less, and others are very strong ventures that made an impact in their first year and I hope will be with us for many years to come. Of them, I’d put Central Provisions, Lolita and Palace Diner at the top of the class of 2014. Right out of the gate all three had a focused vision of what they wanted to be and delivered at a high level of consistency and quality.
- Crowdfunding – Portland food businesses have been tapping into crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo since 2010 when Cakeface raised $1,545 on a $1,000 goal to buy baking equipment. This year that approach seems to have hit an all time high with approximately a dozen Maine food ventures raising more $350,000. Crowdfunding can be a good way for a new business owner to providing start-up capital while at the same building awareness and an online network of contributors who are also likely to be regular customers.
- National Press – national press coverage of the Portland food scene was truly amazing to watch this year. There were feature articles in Bon Appétit, Saveur, Food & Wine, and the Wall Street Journal, and nearly every week there seemed to be reports on Portland food in publications as diverse as Maxim and the Financial Times. Press attention from outside Maine does tend to be cyclical so I’ll be surprised if this continues at the same level into 2015.
- Beer – the amazing growth of the Maine beer industry continued in 2014 with approximately 20 new breweries opening across the state. In the Portland area a number of existing breweries added capacity, Bissell Brothers had an extremely successful first year, and both Foundation Brewing and Austin Street launched. Oxbow and Geary’s opened a tasting rooms in Portland in 2014, and Sierra Nevada brought their roving beer festival to Portland in August. Both the Maine Brew Bus and Maine Beer Tours seemed to be doing brisk business all summer. Another Portland brewery, the Fore River Brewing Company, is already under development with plans to open in 2015.
- Under Construction – There are 20+ new businesses currently in various stages of development. A few themes I saw evident in the past year were small plates (Lolita, Central, Sur Lie) and a shift in interest to Mediterranean cuisine (Ebb & Flow, Lolita, Sur Lie, Lazari, Tiqa). The Longfellow Square area continued to be a hot spot for new business development and several eateries are now venturing into the post-Longfellow stretch of Congress (Tandem Bakery, Bramhall, Figgy’s, Arabian Days). Inner Washington Ave and the portion of Congress immediately nearby seems to also be gathering momentum. We’re also seeing beginings of a mobile to brick-and-mortar transition with the acquisition of Steve & Renee’s by Hella Good Tacos and Small Axe taking over the East Ender.
- Upcoming in 2015 – the number of new businesses under development seems to be slightly tapering off but there are many new ventures already in process. The ones I’m looking forward to the most are:
- the new incarnation of the East Ender by Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy
- Figgy’s, a fried chicken and southern food cafe in the West End
- Lincolns, a inexpensive bar in the Old Port
- Maine & Loire, a natural wine shop opening soon on Washington Ave
- Eventide/Hugo’s new restaurant, The Honey Paw
- Dana Street and Sam Hayward’s new seafood restaurant on Commercial Street
- The new eatery under construction on Market Street by Steve and Michelle Corry
- The bar Joe Ricchio and Joel Beauchamp have in development
Notable Events of 2014
- January – Casa Fiesta and Miyake Diner opened, Small Axe’s Karl Deuben and Bill Leavy began the search for a brick and mortar restaurant, the Food Co-op announced that they leased a space at 290 Congress Street for their new retail store, Nathaniel Meiklejohn announced plans for his bar The Jewel Box, Novare Res and The Great Lost Beer were on Draft magazine’s list of America’s top beer bars, the Oxbow edition of Off the Wagon was released, Tandem’s Ayele Yirgacheffe was an award winner at the Good Food Awards, Shannon Bard was the featured chef of a James Beard House dinner, Little Bigs began selling crauxnuts and Mesa Verde went out of business.
- February – Central Provisions and Thai 9 opened, the blog Eating Portland Alive got started, Oakhurst Dairy was sold to a national dairy farm cooperative, a controversy flared up over an archaic provision in Maine law that prohibited bars from listing the ABV of the beers they serve, Black Dinah announced plans to open a facility in Portland, Peggy Grodinsky became the food editor of the Press Herald, Tortilleria Pachanga started production, the list of James Beard semifinalists were released, word first surfaced about a new waterfront restaurant being launched by Dana Street, Jonah Fertig left Local Sprouts to help other organization successfully launch cooperatives, the Meat House closed.
- March – Red Sea and Vietnam Bakery opened, Hella Good Taco bought Steve & Renee’s Diner, Portland Police made a formal recommendation to the City Council not to renew Sangillo’s liquor license, Maine Craft Distilling released their Fifty Stone single malt, Tandem announced plans to open a bakery in the West End, Star Chefs include several people from Portland in their 2014 Rising Star list, the Uprising iPhone app was released, three Maine chefs were contenders in the F&W’s People’s Best New Chef competition, MECA kicked off a culinary program, Hugo’s announced their Yankee Swap series and Maine Restaurant Week took place.
- April – India Bazaar, Liquid M2 and Ana’s Mobile Gourmet opened, the Chalice mobile app launched, Hugo’s and Miyake were included in the Opinionated About Dining list of the top 100 restaurants in the US, Pepperclub began a search for a new space, the City Council voted not to renew Sangillo’s liquor license, the books Eating in Maine and Portland Food were released, and Roost and Slainte went out of business.
- May – Clark Street Market, Old Port Spirits, Riverside Grill, Timber and Maine-ly Meatballs opened, Coastal Root Bitters launched, and Vincenza’s Bakery opened for a very short time on Exchange, Blue Rooster announced their summertime guest chef series, the inaugural Rum Riots cocktail festival took place, Piccolo held a Star Wars themed dinner on May the Fourth, PFM won the Best Food Blog category in the Phoenix readership poll, the Boston Globe published an article about Bissell Brothers, I led a Maine Brew Bus Portland Coffee House Tour and wrote a Portland dining guide for Down East magazine, El Rayo closed the Cantina, Gingko Blue and Down Home Cookin’ also closed.
- June – Lolita, Fishin’ Ships, CN Shawarma, King’s Head Pub, Foodworks, Anapurna’s Thali and Slab opened, Uncle Andy’s was featured in an episode of Restaurant Impossible, Dean’s Sweets announced plans to move to Fore Street, Food & Wine named Cara Stadler one of the Best New Chefs of 2014, Speckled Ax held a Panamanian/Gesha tasting, Bon Appetit published an article about food in Maine, partners Masa Miyake and Will Garfield decided to end their partnership resulting in the closure of Miyake Diner.
- July – El Rayo Scarborough and Maps Cafe opened, Zest magazine launched, Saveur and Maxim both published articles about the Portland food scene, Tasting Table produced a Portland eating guide, Andrew Zimmern put together a Portland eating guide for Food & Wine, Down East made an exhaustive search for Maine’s best lobster roll, Piccolo hosted brewers from Oxbow and Del Ducato for a beer dinner, and Portland & Rochester went out of business.
- August – The Farm Stand, Ten Ten Pie and Tandem Bakery opened, an SUV crashed into Bruno’s, Beer This Week launched, Andrea Swanson bought Foley’s Bakery, the Maine Seaweed Festival took place, Tiqa announced plans to open a restaurant in the Marriott on Commercial Street and O’Maine Media owner Rory Strunk announced plans to launch a media kitchen, Central Provisions and Palace Diner were on the Bon Appetit list of Best New Restaurants in the US and Hunt alpine was on their list of the Best New Bars, Zagat published their list of the 10 hottest restaurants in Portland, chef Natalie ‘Figgy’ DiBenedetto announced plans to launch Skillet/Figgy’s in the West End, Sierra Nevada’s traveling Beer Camp festival came to Portland, Liquid M2 and Thai 9 went out of business.
- September – Arcadia National, Geary’s tasting room, The Jewel Box, Huong’s, Golden Lotus and Sur Lie opened, Dean’s Sweets relocated to Fore Street, author Rowan Jacobsen was in town to launch his new book on heirloom apples, Novare led a campaign to get actor Bill Murray to come to Portland Beer Week, Rob Evans wrote an article about Portland for Serious Eats, the Pepperclub went out of business.
- October – Bramhall, Arabian Days, C Salt and Bao Bao opened, Rosemont announced plans to open in the West End and Hugo’s announced plans to open The Honey Paw, the Boston Globe published an article about the ‘culinary boom’ in Portland, David Turin was the featured chef for a dinner at the James Beard House, food writer Malcolm Bedell announced his plans to launch a food truck called ‘Wich, Please, the Financial Times wrote an article about the Portland food scene, Maine Pie Line announced plans to close and Harvest on the Harbor took place.
- November – Dutch’s, Oxbow tasting room, Ebb & Flow and the Portland Food Co-Op opened, the local chapter of the US Bartenders Guild got its start, Joe Ricchio posted his annual pumpkin beer survey, the Maine shrimp season cancelled for 2nd year, Sangillo’s appeal hearing took place, chefs Frank Anderson and Rebecca Ambrosi launched The Hunter’s Bend, the North Spore mushroom CSA got its start, preeminent wine writer/importer Terry Thiese was in Portland for a series of events, Portland Beer Week took place, Pocket Brunch held a breakfast and a game dinner, Mainebiz published an article about the Maine brewing industry, Alton Brown spoke at Merrill, and The Salt Exchange and Oscar’s New American went out of business.
- December – Otto opens 2nd location in South Portland, Maine Craft Distilling opened a tasting room in Freeport, Frank Cornelissen was at Vinland for a natural wine dinner, Two Fat Cats bought Maine Pie Line, Palace Diner’s tuna fish sandwich was highlighted by Bon Appetit as one of their best meals of 2014, Ilma Lopez shared new about her husband Damian Sansonetti’s illness.
Top 10 Articles
- Tandem Bakery – first word on plans for Tandem Bakery (March 17)
- Bao Bao – floor plan and draft menu of the restaurant (April 26)
- Bramhall & Sur Lie – floor plan and draft menus for the bar and restaurant (August 2)
- F&W Andrew Zimmern – details on Food & Wine article by Andrew Zimmern on his favorite places to eat in Portland (July 19)
- Alton Brown – first word on his planned visit to Merrill in November (May 31)
- Guest Chef Series – details on the Blue Rooster summer guest chef series (May 8)
- The Jewel Box – first word on Nathaniel Meiklejohn’s plans to open The Jewel Box (January 7)
- Dutch’s Opening Soon – details on the soon to open Dutch’s with photos by Zack Bowen (November 3)
- The Honey Paw – first official word about Eventide/Hugo’s plans for a third restaurant (October 8)
- West End Rosemont – first official word about a Rosemont Market in the West End (October 8)
Top 25 Restaurants
- Central Provisions (-)
- Timber (-)
- Slab (-)
- Vinland (-)
- Empire Chinese Kitchen (11)
- Lolita (-)
- Outliers Eatery (2)
- Bao Bao Dumpling House (-)
- Blue Rooster Food Co. (3)
- Back Bay Grill (22)
- Caiola’s (10)
- C-Squared (-)
- The King’s Head (-)
- Piccolo (7)
- Eventide Oyster Company (4)
- Fore Street (27)
- Five Fifty-Five (18)
- East Ender (40)
- Grace (24)
- Hugo’s (14)
- Sur Lie (-)
- Petite Jacqueline (6)
- Blue Spoon (23)
- Golden Lotuus (-)
- Miyake Diner (-)
The numbers in parentheses indicate their rank last year. Order is determined by the number of times these restaurants were looked up on PFM during the year.
- Joseph Esposito, 84 – owner of Rudy’s Diner and Harbor Lunch, he was also a co-owner of Espans Quick Lunch and Forest Gardens
- Rudolph Ferrante, 91 – owner of Rudy’s Diner and Harbor Lunch, he was also a co-owner of Espans Quick Lunch and Forest Gardens
- Andrea Lee, 65 – bartender for 37 years at Sangillo’s
- Neil Taliento, 94 – co-owner of Tally Brothers Food Brokerage
- Joseph Vacchiano, 84 – former owner of Pat’s Meat Market
For some other perspectives on the past year see Dig Portland, The Golden Dish, Urban Eye, Map & Menu, Eater Maine, Maine Today, and Peter Peter Portland Eater.
For more information on Portland’s food past see the 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 year in review reports, as well as PFM blog posts from 2009, 2008 and 2007, and the Portland Food Timeline.