SOUTH PORTLAND — Jeff Applegate has vacationed in southern Maine for the last 20 years.

Two years ago, Applegate, who owns three restaurants, started making plans to move to the area from Champaign, Ill.

“Originally, it was my idea of semi-retiring to Maine and opening a restaurant,” the 51-year-old said Wednesday.

But when Applegate eventually moved into a condo at Mill Cove Landing in the Knightville neighborhood and explored the area, opportunity presented itself.

Three more opportunities, in fact.

Now, Applegate plans to open four Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar businesses. In addition to South Portland, Applegate has signed leases for the sports-themed casual restaurants in Augusta and Bangor, and also has his eyes on the Lewiston-Auburn area.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” he said. “It’s very aggressive.”

His reason for the big push into the state is simple: “People in Maine enjoy their wings immensely,” he said. “And their beer.”

Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, which has 734 U.S. franchises, is the first tenant in a new shopping center at 85 Western Ave. Commercial real estate broker Karen Rich said she has received letters of intent from enough tenants to fill about half of the 34,000-square-foot plaza.

Only Subway has signed a lease in addition to Applegate, said Rich, who declined to identify the other businesses that are interested in leasing space. Those parties include restaurants, retailers, a hair salon and a dentist, she said.

“We’ve actually had a ton of interest,” Rich said.

Rich said the exterior of the building, which according to planning documents is estimated to cost about $3.8 million, will be finished in March. And the interior will be finished as tenants sign leases, she said.

Rich said she hopes the interest in the building is a sign that the economy is recovering. While 85 Western Ave. benefits from a high-traffic location, other commercial and residential properties in outlying areas are generating interest, too, she said.

At Applegate’s new 312-seat restaurant, patrons will be greeted by a 50-inch flat-screen TV, one of 50 TVs scattered throughout the dining area and lounge. New England sports memorabilia decorates the walls, and high school sports  jerseys from South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Portland hang on the wall near those of Boston sports legends Larry Bird, Bobby Orr and Tom Brady.

The March 7 opening of Buffalo Wild Wings will not only be good news for wing-eating, beer-drinking sports fans, but for local workers.

Applegate said he has hired 120 full-time employees for the restaurant, after receiving 1,800 applications over a two-week period. He plans to employ 500 people once all four locations are open.

During a tour of the bar area in South Portland, which will offer 30 draft beers, Applegate was asked to show the emergency switch that is featured in the chain’s TV commercials – the switch that makes major sporting events go into overtime so customers can continue eating and drinking.

But he declined.

“That’s a secret,” he said. “Like our 14 sauces.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar co-owners Jeff Applegate, left, and Jason Cole stand in the lounge area of their new 312-seat restaurant in South Portland, the first business to open in the new plaza at 85 Western Ave.

Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar will open the first of four Maine restaurants on March 7 at 85 Western Ave. in South Portland.

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