The 2020 Year in Review

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.

  1. Big Takeout List (March 14th)
  2. Indoor/Outdoor Dining List (June 21st)
  3. Pandemic Casualty List (May 4th)
  4. Black-owned Restaurants List (June 1st)
  5. Rise of the Restaumart (April 21st)
  6. Maine Hospitality Workers Resource Guide (March 23rd)
  7. Vertical Harvest Coming to Maine (July 28th)
  8. Food Truck Tracking Apps (June 26th)
  9. Maine Heirloom Apple Guide (August 31st)
  10. Opening of NewYork Fried Chicken (June 7th)

Notable Events of 2020

Passings

  • 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.

Sweet Sea Cookies Now Open

Leigh Kellis, the fonder of The Holy Donut,  opened the doors to Sweet Sea Cookies (websitefacebookinstagram) pop-up shop on Monday. Located in the former Old Port Sandwich Shop location at 89 Market Street. The goal of Sweet Sea Cookies is to raise money for Less Plastic Portland which encourages businesses to reduce plastic use.

Cookies come in 3 flavors: oatmeal raisin, sea salt chocolate, and sunflower crunch. The cookies are produced by Baristas + Bites for Sweet Sea.

New Browne Trading Market Open

Browne Trading (website) has reopened their Commercial Street market after a long rebuilding project. The overall layout is the same as the old store. The seafood counter is fully stocked. Browne is working to scale-up the wine and specialty foods they have on hand.

Browne was the scene of a 3-alarm fire back in April. The fire shutdown the retail side of the business. Hours for the market are 10 – 6, Monday through Saturday.

Batson River Opens Friday


The new Portland location of Batson River (websitefacebookinstagram) in Bayside is slated to open Friday at 4pm.

The 9,000 sq ft restaurant and bar is located at 82 Hanover Street in the Public Works building that’s home to Wilson County, The Yard and Banded Horn. The space features a large main bar and fireplace, along semi-private table in a first floor alcove, a balcony seating and games area, and a second smaller bar area with a side entrance on Parris Street.

“We designed the space to feel like a grand, established home that had welcomed many visitors, hosted many gatherings, and whose walls could tell endless stories of adventure. We wanted the fireplace and staircase to be grand and majestic and the seating to be welcoming and intimate. This opening winter season, couples can cozy up by a fire, play some scrabble, sip some whiskey, and eat a good meal. When we get back to a time of larger gatherings, Batson is also designed as a community gathering hub, with lots of sunshine and fresh air in mind – we put in a retractable full ceiling height garage door in the back bar.”

Batson River’s own beers and spirits will be center stage on the drinks menu. The food menu created by chef Tucker Creveling will expand on the “gastropub style” fare served at the original Batson River in Kennebunk. Creveling moved to Maine from Colorado where he worked at several restaurants including Chimney Park.

Batson River plans to be open Wednesdays through Fridays 4pm – 9pm; and Saturdays and Sundays 12pm – 9pm for both inside dining andd take-out.

Batson River opened in late 2018 in Kennebunk. A third Batson River location to be located in Biddeford is in the planning stages and is expected to open in 2022.

 

 

Sweet Woodruff Provisions

Kate Fisher Hamm, the excellent pastry chef at Leeward, is launch a monthly bakery pop-up called Sweet Woodruff Provisions (website, instagram).

This month’s menu includes:

    • Satsuma and vanilla cake
    • Double chocolate and rum caramel cake
    • Apples and amaro tart
    • Hazelnut bakewell tart
    • Holiday cookie boxes

Online ordering for the December pop-up is now live and runs through December 18th, for pick-up at Lorne in Biddeford on December 20th and at Leeward in Portland on December 22nd.

The business is named for a flowering herb that’s said to have an aroma of vanilla or honey.

Kuno


As reported back in August, Kuno (instagram) has leased and been renovating 166 Cumberland Ave. While the construction was ongoing, owner Nick Yee has been operating his food truck out of the parking lot of the building.

Earlier this week, Yee moved his kitchen indoors and Kuno is now serving up takeout from the new restaurant. Kuno is open 7 days a week, 5pm – 11pm. You can place your order online.

The first Portland food trucks launched in 2012. Since then it’s been really good to see a dozens of them using a mobile operation as the stepping stone into a brick and mortar business.

XO to Open Friday

Big Tree Hospitality is planning to launch their new restaurant this Friday at 5pm. XO Burger and Wings (website, instagram) will be  serving a “menu full of crushable Americana” with options like the Good Morning Burger (shown) with egg, red onion jam, hash brown and hot sauce, the XO Burger with XO sauce, banana peppers, and smoked cheddar, Chili Crisp Wings with house chili crisp and scallion, and a Grilled Caesar with grilled romaine, house mackerel caesar, mackerel “anchovies” and parmesan.

XO will be operating out of Hugo’s in Portland and Eventide Fenway in Boston with purely a takeout/delivery service model.

Big Tree Hospitality is led by Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley and Arlin Smith. In 2012 they bought Hugo’s from then owner Rob Evans and Nancy Pugh and in the same year launched Eventide. They went on to  create The Honey Paw in 2015 and open Eventide Fenway in 2017.

Photo credit: Zack Bowen Photography

Central Sandwich & Provisions

Starting this morning, Central Provisions is launching a new menu and concept under the name Central Sandwich & Provisions.

Open 7 days a week 9am to 6pm, Central Sandwich & Provisions will be offering up a menu (see below) that includes breakfast fare, sandwiches, soups, salads, drinks and a select list of CP provisions. A few of the regular CP menu items are coming back in a new form on the new menu. For example, the popular fried cauliflower dish (ras al hanout, chickpeas, feta, herbs) is now augmented with apple and hummus and transformed into a wrap.

You can place an order online, in person, or call 207-805-1085 starting at 9am for breakfast and 11am for lunch.

The Central Sandwich & Provisions menu will also available through the CarHop delivery service.

The regular Central Provisions menu and concept is expected to eventually return.