Monday January 06, 2014 | 12:46 PM


Happy 2014! If you had a chance to take some time off for the holidays, you might have missed this great year-end story from Press Herald writer Meredith Goad:

Portland restaurant space rare, too pricey, chefs say

Goad surveys a number of local chefs who say that retail spaces for new restaurants in downtown Portland are growing increasingly scarce (and, by the laws of supply and demand, expensive as well).

And in today's paper, staff writer Mary Pols has another story of a young chef who's gone into deep debt to Kickstarter supporters in order to kick off his new enterprise on Congress Street. 

Bold idea for Portland restaurant fraught with challenges

The takeaway from these stories is that you need big money to open a new restaurant in Portland, and escalating startup costs are turning off young, scrappy entrepreneurs — exactly the kind of people who made the city's food scene what it is today.

To me, the most resonant quote in Meredith's story comes from chef Chad Conley, a personal friend of mine, who abandoned hopes of opening up a new restaurant in the City of Portland when he found a cheaper, more attractive place in Biddeford.

"As soon as we started poking around (in Biddeford), we realized that a lot of landlords and a lot of people in town were looking for people like us – young, energetic chefs with good ideas – and our budget fit the town a lot better."

It wasn't that long ago that people used to say similar things about Portland. 

The city allegedly wants to recruit more young, creative entrepreneurs to open businesses here, but if the rent is too high, those entrepreneurs will find greener pastures elsewhere. This isn't just a problem that affects the vitality of Portland's restaurant scene — it's also a problem that hounds artists trying to find studio space and migrants from other cities who are hunting for an apartment. 

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I'm an economics wonk and an online content producer for the Portland Press Herald.

You can get in touch with me by emailing cmilneil [at] mainetoday.com, or by calling 791-6307, or by following @vigorousnorth. Also check out my business and economics list on Twitter.

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