Rob Evans, the James Beard award-winning chef who just sold his Portland restaurant, Hugo’s, knows that people think he and his wife and business partner, Nancy, are moving to New York or some other large city to open a new fine dining establishment.
Nothing, he said, could be farther from the truth.
Evans said the sale of the restaurant where he built his culinary reputation will give the couple the time and money they need to establish a small farm on 82 acres they bought in Limington. “And then we’re going to be looking at doing more businesses in Portland,” Evans said. “So we’re not retiring. We’re not opening up restaurants in New York like a lot of people think we’re doing. Actually, quite the opposite. We’re looking to get more connected to the state.”
The Evanses will start by taking a year or two to transform their Limington property, where they have built a camp, into a small farm that raises pigs and maybe some vegetables. At the same time, they’ll focus on transforming their other restaurant, Duckfat, into a wholly sustainable eatery. Duckfat already recycles 90 percent of its waste.
After that, they’ll be guided by their creative juices.
The chef said he and Nancy feel Portland is ripe for just about anything now, and they have many plans for some original food concepts in the city.
Among the ideas he mentioned were a series of casual, European-style fritte shacks around town where customers could walk up to a window and buy a cone of Duckfat’s Belgian fries, and a new Duckfat restaurant done in a different style, perhaps serving New England classics like shepherd’s pie or fish and chips, “but definitely done on a higher level than you usually see.”
Evans said his food philosophy has been changing, and he wants to move away from his reputation as an “avant-garde” chef toward something simpler, in a style that’s different from Hugo’s.
“Of course more Duckfats would include simpler foods,” he said, “but I want to open something down the road that represents all the experiences I’ve gathered over my 30 years of cooking and apply it to what I hope to be Portland’s first seasonal restaurant, high concept in its approach but not overly refined.”
Evans said he had been trying to sell Hugo’s for five years. For the past three years, he’s been trying to convince three of the staffers there — Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley and Arlin Smith — to buy it. The three men have basically been running the place for the last two to three years, with Evans signing off on the menus.
Evans began pulling back in the past six months or so, giving Taylor, who was Evans’ chef de cuisine, free rein in the kitchen to do what he wants.
“They’ve got great energy,” Evans said. “They’re going to continue what I started there, and I look forward to seeing it grow.”
Hugo’s is at 88 Middle St., across the street from Duckfat. The new owners have said they do not plan any major changes at Hugo’s, but they have leased the space next door and plan to open a new oyster bar there called Eventide Oyster Company. It’s expected to open by summer.
Evans said even though he was ready to move on from Hugo’s and do something different, he does miss the staff and his favorite customers. But the emotional difficulty of letting go, he said, has been “overtaken by the exhilaration of just a wide-open future and so many opportunities.”
“We have resources now, and we have great ideas that we want to start building on in Portland,” Evans said. “We aren’t going anywhere.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: email@example.com