Spring is the time when restaurant concepts that have been simmering all winter start to come together in a flurry of renovations, hiring and training staff, and menu planning. In Portland, the scramble is on to open by – or at least during – summer tourist season.

This year, the list of food businesses opening in town is a bit smaller than usual and is an eclectic bunch, covering a wide range of cuisines and styles. A coffee shop, deli and pizza joint are on the list, along with an authentic Szechuan restaurant and an izakaya, or Japanese gastropub.


Yulia Stolkner opened her tiny cafe and coffee shop at 229 Congress St. on Easter Sunday, making it one of the first new food businesses to open this season.

Stolkner, who is Russian, grew up in St. Petersburg. After she moved to Maine to be with her husband, she ran a coffee cart in Old Orchard Beach for three years. But she wanted to move her business to Portland, a “more interesting and more intelligent city.”

“I always wanted to have a sit-down place where you could sit and talk to your friends and read a book,” she said.


Her new East End space, which used to be a clothing store, has just nine seats, but is already getting plenty of customer traffic. Along with drip coffee, Stolkner serves espresso-based drinks made with Lavazza beans (a popular Italian brand) as well as organic Fair Trade beans from a Maine roaster. She also makes tea, hot cocoa, chai, iced drinks and shakes. One of her more popular espresso drinks so far is a Coffee Breve, which is made with cream instead of milk and foam. Stolkner says it tastes “like melted ice cream.”

Stolkner has adopted the Italian tradition of sospeso at her shop, a practice in which one customer pays for an extra cup of coffee in advance for someone who may not be able to afford one. Think of it as pay-it-forward caffeine.

When Stolkner moved to Portland, she also began making sweet and savory crepes, a favorite in her home country. “Russian people do love crepes,” she said.

Her customers are fond of a ham and cheese crepe with a touch of mustard, she said, along with a crepe she “invented” that contains honey and walnuts.

“I know Americans love sweet things,” she said.

Sip of Europe is open from 6:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday; 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.



When Mesa Verde on Congress Street closed two years ago, Tom Barr, the owner of Taco Escobarr, took over the space. He said at the time that he wanted to open a new Mediterranean spot called Lazzari by July of that same year. Then… silence.

Contacted this week, Barr says the project has been “incredibly involved,” but he now hopes to open by late April to mid-May.

Barr said his construction team had to remove 150,000 pounds of materials from the space just to get started with renovations. He’s also dealt with code issues, asbestos, structural reinforcement and other problems.


Chef Thomas Takashi Cooke and his wife, Elaine Alden, who has also spent many years working in the restaurant industry, hope to open their own place in Portland later this summer. They have an architect, a designer, a business plan, financing, even a name – Izakaya Minato – ready to go for their new Japanese restaurant. Now all they need is a space.


They say they’d prefer to stay on the Portland peninsula, but the market is tight.

Thomas Takashi Cooke's sashimi plate, with day boat scallops, kombu-cured flounder, seared Spanish mackerel and local Maine sea urchin roe, served at a pop-up dinner at Bao Bao Dumpling House last week.

Thomas Takashi Cooke’s sashimi plate, with day boat scallops, kombu-cured flounder, seared Spanish mackerel and local Maine sea urchin roe, served at a pop-up dinner at Bao Bao Dumpling House last week.

“Izakaya is a style of dining and restaurants that are very popular in Japan,” Alden said. “They’ve been compared to gastropub or tapas. They are all shared plates, and they’re usually priced lower end so you can order a bunch of things.”

Alden and Cooke met eight years ago working at Tsunami, a sushi restaurant in San Francisco. Alden eventually became the front of house manager and Cooke head chef at a sister restaurant.

The couple quit their jobs last April to spend three months in Japan researching food. (Cooke grew up in Tokyo; his mother is Japanese and father is American.) When they returned to the United States, they spent a month on Vinalhaven Island, where Alden’s family has a summer home. They decided they didn’t want to go back to San Francisco, and in November they moved to Portland. She got a job as a server at Woodford Food & Beverage, and he started making brunch at Local 188. Alden said they have found the Portland restaurant community to be “very welcoming.”

To test their restaurant concept, Cooke and Alden organized a pop-up dinner last week at Bao Bao Dumpling House. Alden speculates that they could have their own place open by August.

“Once we have a space, we’re ready to go,” she said.


Qi Shen stands in the future home of Sichuan Kitchen at 612 Congress St. in Portland.

Qi Shen stands in the future home of Sichuan Kitchen at 612 Congress St. in Portland.


Qi Shen’s family has been in the food business a long time. Early in the last century, her father’s side of the family ran a traditional banquet restaurant in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. When political revolution brought a new government, the family business had to shut down. Her uncle then opened a cooking school.

Now Qi Shen wants to carry on the family tradition by opening a 45-seat restaurant featuring Sichuan Chinese cuisine at 612 Congress St., just two doors down from The Green Elephant vegetarian restaurant. She has hired two chefs of Chinese heritage, including one from Boston. The executive chef, Shangwei, is from Chengdu and will be coming to Portland from San Francisco. A sample menu filed with the city lists beef, pork and fish dishes, including fish soup with pickled greens and spicy steamed beef with rice.

“It’s going to be an authentic Szechuan restaurant,” Qi Shen said.

Qi Shen had hoped to open last fall, but says permitting and construction have taken longer than expected. Her target opening date is now the end of May or early June. The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.



We reported some time ago that Mike Keon and Anthony Allen have been planning two new Portland restaurants for months. Why haven’t they opened?

As with many restaurant openings, it’s a case of having too much on their plate. Keon and Allen have been busy opening a new branch of Otto in Arlington, Mass., Shepherd said. Also, the new Ocho at 190 State St., which is being transformed from a take-out burrito/sandwich shop into a sit-down restaurant serving traditional Mexican dishes, is taking longer than expected.

The new Otto at 250 Read St. that was scheduled to open by Feb. 1 is now targeted for early May. The new Ocho won’t be far behind – probably late May, says Eric Shepherd, director of marketing and communications for the restaurants.

While the new Ocho space has not required extensive renovation (the space is the former home of Petite Jacqueline), Keon does a lot of the interior design for his restaurants himself, and “he’s been in there giving it his touch,” Shepherd said.

Keon and Allen are also applying for a full liquor license for the restaurant, and developing the expanded menu. Weekend brunch will include dishes such as huevos entomatados – poached eggs served on enchiladas with fresh queso, a tortilla, avocado and onion.

The Read Street Otto, Shepherd said, will be “very family friendly,” with big, U-shaped booths to fit the whole clan. A bar will provide parents with beer to go with their pulled pork and mango pie.



This dessert-only restaurant concept is still in the early planning stages. Brant Dadaleares, the former pastry chef at Fore Street, hopes to open a restaurant in Portland that serves only plated desserts, cocktails, digestifs and dessert wines. He’s still searching for space and financing, but meanwhile will hold a pop-up dessert tasting on April 18 at Bao Bao Dumpling House. As of this writing, the event is nearly sold out.

Why the unusual name? Dadaleares is known for posting photos of his amazing dessert creations on social media, accompanied by one word: Gross!


Portland’s beloved French bistro, Petite Jacqueline, will re-open in mid-May at 46 Market St., merging with the Portland Patisserie & Grand Cafe. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Both businesses are owned by Portland restaurateurs Steve and Michelle Corry.



Chef Lee Farrington, who closed her restaurant Figa three years ago, has been slowly but surely transforming the space at 249 Congress (which she owns) into… something else.

The new place, called LB Kitchen (for the initials of Farrington and her partner), will be a cafe-style restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, also brunch on weekends. Farrington said that the opening is targeted for mid-summer. She described it as a “modern cafe with a focus on a healthier aspect of eating and drinking.” That includes veggie bowls and lots of salads and grains – proteins optional.


The owners of Tiqa, the Mediterranean restaurant on Commercial Street, recently won the citywide competition to run a business at the Deering Oaks Castle. Patrick Morang, the general manager at Tiqa, said this week that the year-round cafe should be open by mid- to-late May, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

A ROUNDUP OF A few other new places opening soon:

As reported in the Press Herald a few weeks ago, Ameera Bread now on Forest Avenue, will open a second location on the second floor of the Portland Public Market House in April. Like the original location, it will serve Middle Eastern breads and hummus and such. Sisters Gourmet Deli, owned by two sisters, is scheduled to open May 1 at 15 Monument Square in the former Wannawaf waffle shop. Rossobianco, a natural wine bar and casual restaurant from David Levi, the chef/owner of Vinland, will feature northern Italian dishes and is expected to open in May.


Finally, several food-related businesses are scheduled to open at Thompson’s Point this spring. They are:

 Yeti, a chicken-and-waffle eatery by chef Jason Loring and his partners in Fifth Food Group. Loring recently told the Press Herald that he hopes for a June opening.

 Cellardoor Winery’s tasting room and Stroudwater Spirits (bourbon, whiskey, vodka and gin) are scheduled to open in late May.

 Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. will move its operations from Industrial Way to Thompson’s Point sometime in late spring or early summer.

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