Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Jay Villani, owner of Local 188 and Sonny’s, and his partners plan to open a barbecue restaurant in this space at 919 Congress St.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Harding Lee Smith works happy hour at The Corner Room, one of his three – soon to be four – “Rooms” on the peninsula.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
HERE'S A PARTIAL LIST of other Portland restaurants that are owned by the same chef or restaurant group:
• Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline
• The Green Elephant and Boda
• Hugo's and Eventide Oyster Co.
• Nosh and Taco Escobarr
• The Dogfish Cafe and The Dogfish Bar & Grille
• Benkay Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar and Kushiya Benkay
MAINE'S RESTAURANTS employ 62,700 people, making up 10 percent of the workforce. Sales in Maine restaurants are projected to reach $1.9 billion this year.
Villani and the other restaurateurs planning new businesses say that today it's essential to have a niche to fill in the city. Villani thinks there's room here for more barbecue, and his new place will be just a block and a half from the ballpark at Hadlock Field.
The barbecue will be sold by the pound and be served with a vinegar-based sauce and lots of Maine craft beer.
"We're making a trip down to Charlotte in a couple of weeks, a handful of us, and we're going to do a little low-country tour of barbecue," Villani said. "We're going to take a little road trip and eat our way through some small holes and dives. I know I want it to be a Carolina-based barbecue. I'm not looking for a full-on Texas type of thing."
WILLIAM GARFIELD says the new Miyake restaurant at 129 Spring St., expected to open no later than early spring, will serve "Japanese comfort food. " The menu has not been decided yet, but it will once again be a BYOB establishment. (Since it closed in 2011, the tiny building has been used for catering and office space.)
The restaurant group already owns Miyake, a fine dining restaurant that started in the Spring Street location before it moved to 468 Fore St. last year, and Pai men Miyake, which has a more casual atmosphere and caters to fans of noodles and beer.
Garfield warns that people who loved the previous Food Factory Miyake should not expect the new incarnation to be a carbon copy of the old place.
"If we were just another sushi restaurant, I don't think Portland would be able to support that, even with our BYOB fans," Garfield said. "But we're going to try to carve out another niche in that space -- something that Portland has not seen before, but with a Japanese orientation around it."
Expect some changes at Miyake as well. Garfield says the chef has "some new energy" for the Fore Street location and will likely debut a new menu there within the next few months.
Garfield says there's always a risk with opening a new restaurant in Portland. "There have been quite a few that have opened up and not made it through the past 12 months," he said, "so it's definitely a concern of ours."
Grotton says the competition in Portland is such that restaurateurs have to stay on their toes. They can't be busy just on Friday and Saturday nights. Add another good restaurant to the mix, and it's likely that a place that has been struggling probably won't survive.
The stakes are a lot higher now, too. Villani says things have changed a lot in Portland since he opened Local 188 in 1999 in Longfellow Square. "It was scary then, spending what I spent, but it wasn't that much," he said. "It was under 20 grand when I opened up the old Local. I went downtown, and I gave them plans on a napkin, and they issued me a permit."
Villani estimates it would cost at least $200,000 to open a restaurant in Portland today. Harding Lee Smith agrees with that figure, noting that now the city requires that restaurant plans be drawn by a design professional.
PEOPLE WHO HAVE LIVED in Portland for more than a decade or so know that Dana Street, the force behind Street and Company, Fore Street and many other food-related ventures, was the city's first restaurateur to more than dabble in fine dining after the revival of the Old Port in the 1980s.
But in recent years, Harding Lee Smith is the name that pops to mind when it comes to ownership of multiple restaurants. His "Rooms" -- The Front Room on Munjoy Hill and The Grill Room and The Corner Room Italian Kitchen and Bar on Exchange Street -- are popular and successful enough that he hasn't needed any outside investors to fund the fourth restaurant. (The new place will also have "Room" in the name, but Smith says he's not ready to divulge that yet.)
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Masa Miyake, shown here cooking at his restaurant on Fore Street, plans to reopen his Food Factory Miyake on Spring Street.
Press Herald file photo
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The former Boone’s on the waterfront, where Harding Lee Smith plans to open a new seafood restaurant.
Press Herald file photo