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.