The Courier reports on two Biddeford restaurants impacted by the pandemic. Jonesy’s Main Street Cafe is closing March 28th, and the 86 year old Wonderbar is for sale.
The popular landmark’s beginnings are familiar to many. Charlie and Archie Droggitis started Charlie’s Cafe in 1935, selling beer and sandwiches in their parent’s former shoe repair shop location on Washington Street, said Charlie’s son Spiros Droggitis. A couple of years later, Archie bought a mahogany bar in Boston, had it shipped to Maine, and another brother, Ted, suggested changing the name to Wonderbar. Soon, four brothers were involved in the business — Jimmy and Alex joining Archie and Charlie.
MJ’s Wine Bar owner Mark Ohlson has announced that he’ll be closing down MJ’s Wine Bar, and that he’s working on launching a new business.
Thank you for all the laughter, memories, music and conversation. MJ’s was a huge success. We fell in love, dressed up, danced and drank some truly incredible wines. Thank you Portland for attending countless wine talks and crazy themed parties. We conga-lined barrels of wine at the bar and sabered bottles of celebration on the patio. It was the dream I had always wanted and we made it come true. Voted Best Wine List in Portland all seven years we were open (humbling). Named Top 20 Wine Bars in the USA by Wine Enthusiast (super humbling), and most importantly, I got to meet you and spend time with you. Thank you. I am so thankful for everything. And now, it is time to move on. Not because MJ’s wasn’t a success, but because I have a new idea in my head and it won’t leave me alone unless I bring it to life.
See you in May, I hope you like to dance…
Several changes to the Portland food scene were announced today:
Bill’s Pizza, a longtime fixture in Portland, has announced they will be closing their Old Port location on February 28th.
Bill’s pizza is closing on commercial st. Come down and get your last pizza from Portland. Make sure you come say bye to Jess as she is not going to be going to Old Orchard with us. She is however looking for a new position if you have one to offer! Just about everything is up for sale if you are looking for restaurant equipment. We will miss all of you and hope to see all our regular faces before February 28th.
The Bill’s Pizza in Old Orchard Beach will remain in business.
Mr. Tuna is again expanding their first floor space in the Public Market House. This time owner Jordan Rubin is building out the area adjacent to Big Sky as a prep kitchen. This will provide Mr. Tuna with the space needed to breakdown and prepare tuna for use at the Mr. Tuna mobile units and at the Public Market House itself.
Also in the Public Market House, Maine Squeeze has shut down their juice bar. The window front space is now available for lease. A sign indicates that interested parties should reach out to email@example.com for more information.
It’s been an extremely difficult year for restaurants and the entire world. No report can fully or adequately capture all that has happened and that we’ve experienced in the past 12 months. That said, here’s an attempt to provide a high level overview of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the rays of hope and sunshine that was the 2020 year in food for Portland:
- Covid-19 – The pandemic crashed into the restaurant industry in the week leading up to Friday the 13th of March. It’s been a tortuous year for employees and business owners ever since. Everyone experienced the uncertainty of those early days, the rapid growth of takeout options, the eventual loosening of restrictions in the early summer that paved the way for outdoor and on-street dining, and the contraction in business as cooler weather and darker days arrived. A number of restaurants have permanently closed—each and every one of the having a ripple effect through the lives of their staff and the communities they were part of. The vaccine(s) have provided a light that we can see at then end of a long tunnel. Here’s to hoping for a better year in 2021.
- Community – In response to Covid, the racial justice protests and hardship heightened by the recession we’ve seen the restaurant industry and the broader community work together and respond in new ways. In the spring efforts like Feeding the Frontline and Frontline Foods channeled donations from the public into free meals to medical staff who were working to respond to the pandemic. Cooking for Community was founded in Maine as a way to deliver meals to people in need while simultaneously supporting local restaurants, farms and fisheries. Thousands of Mainers took part in the Black Lives Matter protests. The restaurant industry showed its support by taking part in Bakers Against Racism, the Black is Beautiful collaboration beer project and Food Industry Action, and Mainers became new customers Black-owned restaurants, bars and other businesses informed by the list created by BlackOwnedMaine.com. Fork Food Lab established an entrepreneurial empowerment scholarship program and Mainers supported a Go Fund Me campaign to enable Me Lon Togo to move their shuttered Waterville restaurant to Camden. This list just scratches the surface…numerous efforts by individual restaurants and people have raised funds, created programs from scratch and otherwise stepped forward to help people in need.
- Most Notable Openings – Against all odds, new food business have launched both pre/post pandemic and managed to hold on throughout the year. The most notable opening for me have been Magnus on Water in January, Judy Gibson in February, Leeward in March, Via Vecchia and Zao Ze Cafe in June and Liu Bian Tan in September, and the fearless launch of Solo Cucina Market on March 22nd. See the monthly chronicle for details on all 2020 openings.
- Latin American and Caribbean – Options for Latin American and the Caribbean are on the upswing. Magnus on Water, Dos Naciones, Sal de la Tierra, Tacos y Tequila, Mi Pueblo Tacos y Tequila, and Pacifico all launched in the past year. In addition, Yardie Ting is planning to open a second location, Flores is building out a bigger second restaurant at 431 Congress Street, a new eatery called Caribbean Taste in under construction in South Portland, and a Costa Rican/Honduran inspired restaurant called Cafe Louis is under construction in South Portland.
- Upcoming in 2021 – There are a number of new businesses slated to open in 2021 and I expect additions to the list to accelerate as we head into spring. For the full list of new food businesses under development see PFM Under Construction list. Here are some of the current highlights:
- Cafe Louis – a Costa Rican/Honduran inspired restaurant being opened by Eaux owner Evan Richardson and business partner Ben Ferri in South Portland.
- Coveside Coffee – a new coffee shop in Woodfords Corner being launched by Andy Nesheim and Zara Bohan.
- Dandy’s Handy Store – a market being opened in Yarmouth by Garrison chef/owner Christian Hayes.
- Elda/Jack Rabbit – Bowman Brown will be re-opening Elda and launching a new bakery cafe in the mill building Biddeford.
- Helm – a new oyster bar and restaurant located in the WEX building on Thames Street.
- Papa – a new food truck being launched by Josh Amergian.
- Pigeons – Peter and Orenda Hale are opening “fly casual” daytime neighborhood bar/eatery and with a daily happy hour in the space where they formerly operated Drifters Wife.
- Sok Sabai – a new food truck being launched by Tina Nop that will serve Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese food.
- SoPo Seafood – a new oyster and wine bar and seafood shop in Knightville in South Portland.
Top 10 Articles
The most popular articles published on Portland Food Map in the past year.
- Big Takeout List (March 14th)
- Indoor/Outdoor Dining List (June 21st)
- Pandemic Casualty List (May 4th)
- Black-owned Restaurants List (June 1st)
- Rise of the Restaumart (April 21st)
- Maine Hospitality Workers Resource Guide (March 23rd)
- Vertical Harvest Coming to Maine (July 28th)
- Food Truck Tracking Apps (June 26th)
- Maine Heirloom Apple Guide (August 31st)
- Opening of NewYork Fried Chicken (June 7th)
Notable Events of 2020
- January – 6 Maine businesses were winner at the Good Food Awards, Courtney Loreg from Woodfords F&B was the featured chef for the inaugural My Kitchen Their Table interview series, the Chef Summit took place, Mission Chinese chef Danny Bowien was the guest chef at Solo Italiano, Sean Turley from The Righteous Russet was interviewed by Malus, staff from Bard Coffee and Speckled Ax qualified for the US Coffee Championships. Magnus on Water, Ada’s, 207 Bar and Restaurant, The Knotted Apron, and Noodle Love opened.
- February – the Brew Bus merged with Dave’s Travel and Events from Australia, 11 chefs and restaurants from Maine were named James Beard semifinalists, the Portland Food Co-op taught a acorn workshop. Ishi Ishi and Dos Naciones opened.
- March – The Covid pandemic officially arrived in Maine and restaurants began adapting (we weren’t yet say pivot), the city asked restaurants to immediately transition to delivery and takeout, restaurants began preparing meals for school children and delivering meals to frontline workers, the governor ordered dining rooms to close statewide, Maine distillers began producing hand sanitizer, Andrew Ross wrote his last regular restaurant review of the year, Solo Cucina Market opened in South Portland. Portland Food Map began publishing a takeout and food delivery list, and in collaboration with Caroline Richter, a Hospitality Workers Resource Guide In the earlier pre-Covid part of March Five Fifty-Five had announced plans to close in mid-April, Sarah Jackson from the Hunt & Alpine Club and LyAnna Sanabria from Chaval came in first and second place at the Northeast regional Speedrack competition. Leeward, Judy Gibson, and Robin’s Table opened, and A&C opened a (short lived) second location in the West End. Bob’s Clam Hut closed their Portland location.
- April – there was a fire at Walker’s Maine and one at Browne Trading, Cooking for Community launched, a number of restaurant launched in-house takeout grocery services, the Portland Farmers’ Market opened for its 252nd season, it became legal for restaurants to sell to go cocktails and growlers of beer with their takeout meals. Ramona’s opened for takeout on Washington Ave. Blue Spoon Cafe and Catering closed.
- May – Chefs from four Maine restaurants were announced as 2020 Beard Awards nominees, a survey by Eat Drink Lucky found that only 23% of customers were planning to eat in restaurants as soon as they re-opened. The Commercial Street Arabica, the West End LB Kitchen, Wild Burritos, Pearl, Royale Lunch, Miller Brothers Seafood, and Uncle Andy’s went out of business.
- June – Restaurants in Cumberland County were allowed to re-open for outdoor dining on June 1st and indoor dining on June 17th. Black Lives Matter protests began taking place in Portland around the state which prompted a strong interest in black-owned food businesses. Restaurants began demonstrating support for the protests, bakers participated Bakers Against Racism, brewers took part in the Black is Beautiful collaboration beer, and restaurants took part in Food Industry Action. A number of streets in the Old Port were blocked off to provide space for restaurants to offer expanded outdoor dining, Black Dinah Chocolates announced plans to change the name of the company, Melissa Kelly chef/owner of Primo testified before Congress on PPP loans. The Somali Bantu Community Association in collaboration with the Agrarian Trust launched a $367k crowdfunding campaign to acquire a 107-acre farm in Wales, Maine. Several companies launched food truck tracking services. Burundi Star Coffee, Zao Ze Cafe, Via Vecchia, and Evo X opened. The Cider House, Woodhull and the Old Port Sandwich Shop went out of business.
- July – Vertical Harvest announced their plans to build a 70,000 square foot hydroponics greenhouse in downtown Westbrook. Radici, the Bard Coffee food truck, the new Little Woodfords, Je’s Neighborhood Store, Haole Ice, Actual Foods, opened. Piccolo, Sip of Europe and Drifters Wife closed.
- August – the Maine Sunday Telegram took a multifaceted look at how the pandemic was changing the restaurant industry in Maine, Wine Enthusiast magazine named Andrew and Briana Volk to their 2020 40 Under 40 list, the Somali Bantu Community Association successsfuly completed their $367k crowdfunding campaign. Joe Ricchio launched an online video cooking series called My Seventies Kitchen. NewYork [sic] Fried Chicken, Little Easy Snoballs, Paella Seafood, Jefe Juan’s, Halsted’s, Navis Cafe, George’s North Shore, and Sal de la Tierra opened. Vinland closed.
- September – Fork Food Lab announced plans for an entrepreneurial empowerment scholarship program, Anoche and Cornish Cider launched the Backyard Cider Project. The Thames Street Speckled Ax, Liu Bian Tan, Smokey & Brines, D Ajan’s Supermarket opened. Lio and Cellar Door on Thompson’s Point closed.
- October – Rabelais Books and its owner Don Lindgren were included in this year’s Saveur 100, Colleen Kelly opened a new version of Silly, Rover announced plans to re-open their bagel shop in Biddeford, Eaux announced plans to move to a new location. The Portland Banded Brewing tasting room, Rigby Yard, Roll Call and Fusillo opened. Flood’s, The Exchange Street Holy Donut, Brewery Extrava, Ameera Bread and the Old Port Po ‘Boys closed.
- November – Nine Maine food producers were named Good Food Awards finalists, Food & Wine named Night Moves one of the top ten best bakeries in America, Terlingua opened at their new location, Tina Nop was the first recipient of a Fork Food Lab Entrepreneurial Empowerment Scholarship, Vena’s announced plans to move to a new location, Central Provisions made temporary pivot in Central Sandwich and Provisions. Mount Desserts Pie Company, Tiny’s, Crispy Gai, and Jing Yan opened. Ernie’s went out of business.
- December – Governor Janet Mills has announced a $40M aid program for the hospitality industry, A&C and Woodfords began issuing restaurant bonds. XO Burgers and Wings, Kuno, Tacos y Tequila, and Batson River opened. Browne Trading re-opened their market. More & Co. went out of business.
- Nancy Whipple Lord – a co-founder of the Seamen’s Club restaurant in 1973.
- William M. “Bucky” Leighton, Jr., 70 – a teacher at the Culinary Institute in Portland and a chef at Roberts Restaurant in Portland as well as a food service instructor at Portland Regional Vocational Technical Center in Portland.
For additional perspectives on the past year in food see Andrew Ross’s 2020 Best of list in the Maine Sunday Telegram.
Here are links to the Portland Food Map year in review reports for 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.
The New York Times has included Vinland in an article that highlights 26 of the many restaurants across the country that have closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
From the moment it opened, Vinland was more than a restaurant: it was a thought experiment. Influenced by chefs like Dan Barber and Rene Redzepi, the self-taught chef David Levi made a commitment to local ingredients that went much further than taking tomato salad off the menu. It meant cooking without sugar or black pepper or olive oil. It meant that one night’s menu might have three different dishes based on mushrooms, and woe to the diner who doesn’t care for fungi. (Reviews, not surprisingly, were mixed and passionate.)
More & Co. has announced that they’ll be permanently closing their Yarmouth cafe and shop on December 20th.
As with any love story, the imprint of the beautiful, enlightening and challenging experiences lasts even after the story is complete. More & Co., our love story, will always feel like home to us and will always be remembered as a place where creativity and tenderness flourished…We would like to deeply thank all who have worked alongside us; we would like to to thank all of our vendors and makers; we would like to thank all of the dedicated customers who continually preferred something just a little bit different. We love you. It was an honor to share time and space with you.
Ernie’s Pool & Darts has announced that they’ve permanently closed.
With a heavy heart I have decided to close Ernie’s. This is very difficult for me to do. I have worked/owned this great bar for over 25 years. All of us at Ernie’s would like to thank all of our loyal patrons for making Ernie’s what it was, a great place to hang and meet new friends. Our motto was “The fun never stops” but 2020 made the fun stop. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I will miss you all so very much!
Flood’s (website, instagram, facebook) vacated their space at 747 Congress Street over the weekend and has permanently closed.
Flood’s had re-opened for takeout and outdoor dining during the summer. Owner Greg Mitchell closed down again in late August. At the time there was still some possibility that Flood’s might re-open or the space might be used for a new venture, but that turned out not to be the case.
Mitchell opened Flood’s in late May of last year. It received a four star review from the Maine Sunday Telegram and mentions in the New York Times and Boston Globe.
For more information on which local restaurants have closed for good see the Pandemic Casualty List.