City Asks Restaurants to Transition to Takeout/Delivery

The City has made an announcement to institute a partial curfew over the next few days,

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings announced today he is instituting a mandated curfew for establishments where groups gather from 6:00 AM to 2:00 AM on Tuesday, March 17-18 and then daily from 8:00 PM until 2:00 AM on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (March 18 – 22) in light of the need to practice social distancing in order to lessen the community spread and flatten the curve of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The all day curfew on Tuesday is intended to curb St. Patrick’s Day events and festivities, but take-out and delivery of food is still permitted.

As part of that announcement the City has also

strongly recommending all restaurants close to dine-in customers, or dramatically limit the number of customers, and provide takeout or delivery options only for the foreseeable future. While this is the preferable option, the City understands that some restaurants may not be set up to do so. Additionally, the City recommends that all gyms and fitness studios close.

Corona Virus Response

The Maine Sunday Telegram has taken a look at how the restaurant community is responding to the corona virus and people’s need to engage in social distancing.

As concern over coronavirus grows, Maine’s restaurants are taking preventive measures to ensure customers and employees feel safe shopping and dining. They’ve gotten aggressive about hand washing and sanitizing surfaces, and are reminding employees to stay home if they’re sick. Restaurants are reconsidering buffets, and flirting with offering takeout. Dining rooms are getting new footprints as tables and chairs are re-arranged or removed to give customers more “social distance.”

Hospitality Industry Responses Covid-19

Restaurants, bars and other hospitality businesses in Portland are responding to Covid-19 in a variety of ways focused on enabling social distancing and supporting the health of their customers and staff. Here is an incomplete and growing list:

  • Seemingly nearly every business I track has posted some statement on social media in the last few days detailing the steps they’re taking to dial up cleaning procedures. including frequent sanitizing of surfaces, door knobs and menus.
  • Encouraging the use of self service credit card terminals and systems like Apple Pay over cash.
  • Removing some table and bar seats to provide greater personal distance between their customers.
  • Coffee shops have discontinued the refilling of reusable mugs.
  • Items like water stations, napkins and disposable utensils are now being dispensed by staff rather than being self serve.
  • Emphasizing or transitioning entirely to a food to-go model.
  • Instituting new curbside pick-up or delivery services to provide alternative ways to continue to serve their customers.
  • Reminding customers that their food is available via delivery services like 2DineIn.
  • While most restaurants are staying open a few are choosing to close for a period.

Check your favorite spot’s social media accounts for more details about what they’re individually doing to address the situations.

Please post a comment and let me know if you see additional approaches emerging that should be highlighted in this list.

Date Night Destinations

The Maine Sunday Telegram has published some advice on picking the right location for a date.

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we wondered which local restaurants and bars are best for making a love connection? Does Cupid prefer craft beer or Champagne? White tablecloths, low lighting and whispered sweet nothings, or a casual vibe with lively music, noisy chatter and a down-to-earth menu? Here are a few ideas for igniting, or re-igniting, that spark over food and libations, no matter what your dating status.

Brew Bus Goes International

The Brew Bus has announced a merger with Dave’s Travel and Events from Sydney, Australia. The newly formed joint company, Vestigo Travel Group, have also announced plans to purchase a majority stake in the North Carolina firm Brews Cruise which was founded in 2006 and “licenses brewery tour operators around the United States, with nine current locations in cities such as Asheville, Boise, Charlotte, Denver, and Raleigh.”

The Brew Bus was founded in Portland in 2012 and now runs tours in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Dave’s Travel and Events “was originally founded as Dave’s Brewery Tours in Sydney, Australia in 2014, and has grown to become the largest provider of tours and activities in Sydney.”

“We have always wanted to work together in some way since we met at a beer tourism conference several years ago,” said Zach Poole[, founder of The Brew Bus]. “Dave has quickly become part of the Portland community and we have plans to create new opportunities not only here in Maine but in other parts of the country.”

Specialty Food Businesses

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an article on the burgeoning number of specialty food and beverage businesses in Maine.

The number of food and beverage manufacturing companies in Maine grew 35 percent from 2007 to 2017, according to federal census data gathered by James C. McConnon Jr., a Cooperative Extension business and economics specialist and economics professor at the University of Maine. Over that same 10-year period, the number of all Maine businesses, of all kinds, dropped 2 percent, he said.

Vegan/Vegetarian Dining Overview

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an overview of the vegan and vegetarian options in town.

Portland’s plant-based restaurant scene is booming, with at least 11 all-vegetarian eateries in the city. That number doesn’t include Portland’s veg-friendly spots, which according to Yelp.com number more than 200, and according to Rent.com’s recent calculations earned the city the No. 6 spot on its list of the Best American Cities for Vegans.

This scene went into overdrive at the end of 2019.

Swain to Speak at Trade Commission Hearing

Ned Swain, the owner of Devenish Wines, is in Washington DC today where he’ll be addressing a hearing at the federal government’s International Trade Commission.  Swain is there along with a range of other speakers from the wine and specialty food industry to speak against the proposal to apply 100% tariffs to European wines (as well as cheese and other products) imported into the United States.

Devenish along with other Maine wine distributors, food shops and restaurants have been very active getting the word out, making the case for the negative impact these tariffs would have on the wine and restaurant industries in the state.

For more perspective on the issue and the impact it will have, see this article in the New York Times written by Jenny Lefcourt, president and co-founder of Jenny & Francois Selections, a natural wine importer.

MST Best Meals and Vegan Progress

Maine Sunday Telegram Andrew Ross has looked back over 2019 and assembled his highlight reel of dining in Maine,

This year, our food businesses powered through the anticipation, interpreting new trends through the idiom of local ingredients, yet never failing to keep standards high.

So high, that choosing my year-end favorites was at once more difficult and more enjoyable than it has ever been before. I spent the last few weeks scrolling through photos of hundreds of dishes and rereading tableside notes taken surreptitiously on my smartphone. (“Somebody really needs to carve this bagel into Mount Rushmore” brought me back to a spectacular early summer breakfast …)

and vegan columnist Avery Yale Kamila has provided a 2019 review of the changes in the Maine vegan food scene.

Maine’s vegan landscape expanded significantly in 2019 with the arrival of the all-vegan Lovebirds Donuts in Kittery; the all-vegan Sticky Sweet ice cream shop in Portland; the mostly vegan hummus restaurant Nura in Portland’s Monument Square; and the all-vegan fast-food restaurant Copper Branch, which recently opened in Portland’s Old Port, making it the first national vegan chain to set up shop in the Pine Tree State.

Restaurant Bubble?

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram examines whether the Portland restaurant industry is a bubble about to burst.

“Portland was undergoing a little restaurant boom,” Guy Hernandez recalls, “and people were already saying that there were too many restaurants in the city.”

Things haven’t changed much in the past 13 years. Every year, it seems, locals have worried about a pending “restaurant bubble” that, when it bursts, will result in restaurants and bars furiously closing their doors like a stack of dominoes. This year was particularly troubling to city residents who saw a lot of favorites close – places like Silly’s, Lolita, Walter’s, Vignola Cinque Terre, Local Sprouts Cafe, the Irish pub Brian Boru and Andy’s Old Port Tavern. And yet, roughly twice as many other restaurants and bars have opened to take their place. This was the year we welcomed Flood’s, Gross Confection Bar, CBG, Other Side Diner, Royale Lunch Bar, Maiz, Bird & Co, two cider houses, a whiskey bar, a cocktail bar and several smaller eateries.

For a little historical perspective see this PFM post in 2010 about a 1977 Maine Times article. It’s so funny to think anyone would think Portland had reached a tipping in 1977. I suspect they’ll feel the same way about our 2019 concerns from the perspective of the mid 21st Century.