Pandemic Series: Microcosm

Today’s Press Herald has published the second article in a 5-part series on the pandemic’s impact on the Portland restaurant industry. Today’s article takes a close look at the path taken by 7 establishments along Middle Street, examining them “a microcosm of an industry that has been roiled by the pandemic”.

Some have closed permanently, all at least temporarily. They’ve had to reinvent themselves continually, switching to takeout, meal kits and groceries and sending lobster rolls winging around the U.S. They’ve laid off staff and brought them back, or in some cases not; coped with constant uncertainty, positive COVID tests, maddening unemployment applications, and onerous paperwork for loans and grants.

Pandemic Series: Perseverance

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram has published the first article in a 5-part series on the pandemic’s impact on the Portland restaurant industry. Today’s article is titled Threatened by Coronavirus, City’s Restaurants Turn Tables.

Over the summer, Portland lost restaurants like the critically acclaimed Drifters Wife, the tiny modern Italian bistro Piccolo, and the all-local Vinland that were among those responsible for its national reputation as a culinary destination. The devastating early predictions of closures – that 85 percent of independent restaurants nationwide might not survive until the end of 2020 – seemed to be playing out. Then government aid began to flow, putting out immediate financial fires, saving jobs and giving restaurants breathing room. Portland appears to be faring better than bigger restaurant cities like New York and Portland, Oregon, where an estimated one in six and one in seven restaurants, respectively – including national chain restaurants – had closed by the end of 2020. By comparison, a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram survey of the more than 300 independent restaurants and cafes in Portland with on-premise dining shows that about 1 in 14 have permanently shuttered.

Also in today’s paper, restaurant critic Andrew Ross interviews some of his predecessors about their time in the critics chair and their take on the food scene of today.

For some historical perspective and future-facing insight, I reached out to the four long-serving Dine Out alumni to help me look back at Maine’s culinary landscape from the decade (and a bit) covering 2005-2016. In two weeks, I’ll offer some of my own reflections on the past five years and speculate about what’s to come.

Food Truck Boom

The Bangor Daily News has published an article on the big increase in the number of food trucks planning to operate in Portland this year.

There were three times as many licensed food trucks in Portland last month than there were in 2019. Those totals could signal another surge in the number of mobile food options on the scene as chefs find ways around high rents and the lingering threat of the virus.

Wayside in the West End

A new wine-centric restaurant and bar called Wayside is under construction in the former Flood’s space in The Francis hotel. The plan is create a space that can be both a restaurant and also a neighborhood spot to grab a glass wine and snack with friends. The wine program will be weighted to old world wines from Europe.

Wayside is being launched by the founders of Roll Call, Michael and Siobhán Sindoni.  Prior to moving to Maine, Michael was the executive chef of the Joule Hotel and opened the restaurant CBD Provisions in Dallas. Siobhán was the sommelier/manager at FT33 in Dallas. They also worked together for Makeready as culinary director and service/wine director. Their most recent Makeready opening was Frannie & the Fox in Hotel Emeline in Charleston.

Experience Maine Market

Experience Maine Market (website, facebook, instagram) has leased the former Rosemont Market space at 5 Commercial Street where the market will include a retail shop, tasting space and cafe that specializes in Maine made products.

At Experience Maine owner Rachel Sagiroglu plans to serve coffee and baked goods from local roasters and bakeries in the cafe. The space will be set-up with an area that can hold up to 21 people for tastings of Maine beers and wines. Sagiroglu also plans to build out a demonstration kitchen to host cooking demos with local chefs, cooking classes and tasting events.

Rachel Sagiroglu hopes to open the Experience Maine Market this summer. Sagiroglu grew up in the Begrade Lakes area and worked in the Portland restaurant industry before pursing a career in marketing and event and travel planning with “20 years of experience planning meetings, travel and events and experiential marketing campaigns”.

For more information on read this recent article from Mainebiz.

Hospitality Labor Shortage

The Portland Phoenix has published an article on challenges restaurants and other food and beverage business are currently encountering in hiring staff.

A recent HospitalityMaine membership survey found 96 percent are hiring right now. Member establishments were also asked to rank how difficult hiring has been on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 the most difficult; 80 percent of respondents said hiring has been at a 4 or 5, which indicates “difficult” or “extremely difficult.”

For more information on this subject read this recent article by Restaurant Manifesto.

Après in East Bayside

Après (website, instagram) a cidery and hard seltzer producer is under construction at 148 Anderson Street in East Bayside. Ian Goering, former head brewer at Tributary Brewing has been hired as the head of production at Après, and the operations manager Sarah Bryan—formerly with Schilling Beer—will manage front of house operations.

Après is being launched by co-owners Ryan Houghton from the Hop Yard and Michael Cardente. Extensive renovations to the industrial building are in full swing with hopes to open the 80-seat tasting room and outdoor seating area sometime this summer.

Après is looking forward to being part of Maine’s burgeoning cider industry, and will be Portland first hard seltzer producer. The production space includes 15-barrel brewing operation and a barrel-ageing room for their cider. A food program for the tasting room is in the early planning stage and will be augmented with appearances by local food trucks.

For people that want the most unique social drinking adventure, Après is redefining the tasting room experience by creating the most unique house-brewed hard seltzer + cider and an unforgettable social environment. We facilitate the simple act of discovery – where people enjoy rare products and connect with others in exciting ways.

Maine has 21 on-market cider producers and now 7 cider producers under construction.

Stacks Pancake Co.

A new restaurant called Stacks Pancake Company (instagram)  is under construction at 139 Riverside St. Stacks will serves breakfast and lunch all day, along with bloody marys, mimosas and coffee from Arabica.

The business is being launched by the Papanikoleau family. They previously ran a number of restaurants in New York and New Jersey before moving to Maine. The family is hoping to launch Stacks sometime in May.

Stay tuned for more details on the menu. In the meantime take a look at their instagram-ready breakfast options.