Rebecca Charles, chef/owner of Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City, has purchased the former Abbondante Trattoria & Bar in Kennebunk, fulfilling a longstanding dream of owning a restaurant in Maine.

Abbondante, an Italian restaurant located at 27 Western Ave. in the Lower Village, had been run by chef David Ross and his wife, restaurateur Merrilee Paul, in partnership with the Kennebunkport Resort Collection since May 2013. Ross and Paul closed the place last fall to focus on their other businesses, 50 Local and Owen’s Farmhouse.

Charles plans to open a 25-seat oyster bar called Spat Oyster Cellar in the downstairs part of the building, where there’s a small dining room with a fireplace and stone patio, in July. The large dining room upstairs will open sometime in the fall.

Charles, reached in New York on Tuesday, said she is also building a new home in Maine and plans to move here over Memorial Day weekend. She’ll spend the whole summer in Maine, then once the new restaurant opens she’ll split her time between Maine and New York City.

Charles, whose small restaurant in Greenwich Village brought the love of the lobster roll to New York City, has long ties to Maine – her family has summered in Kennebunk since 1917 – and visits here often. In the 1980s, Charles worked as a chef at the Whistling Oyster in Ogunquit and at Cafe 74 and the White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, where she was executive chef. Even after moving back to New York in 1987, she visited often with family summering in Maine.

Charles said she’s wanted to open a restaurant in Maine since 1997, the same year she founded Pearl Oyster Bar, and she’s been trying to buy the Abbondante building for four years. She reminisced about her time hanging out there in the 1980s, when the restaurant was called Grissini and had “a lovely feel.” Now she owns it herself, which she says “feels weird” after putting in many bids over the years and always being turned down.


“I wanted this to happen when I was in my 50s,” she said. “I’m now 62 and opening another restaurant. But it’s been such a longstanding goal, I knew if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”

Charles said she may call the new place Pearl, but more likely it will be Pearl North. “It will have the trappings of the Pearl Oyster Bar menu, with a lot of the same dishes,” she said.

But Pearl Oyster Bar is “a very small restaurant” with a limited menu, and it only serves beer and wine. The Maine version of Pearl will have a total of 150 seats, so Charles won’t be sticking strictly to her menu of elevated seafood – she’ll also serve meat, poultry and pasta, and will have a full bar.

“I’m very happy to be getting back to cooking meat because I never saw myself as a seafood cook,” Charles said.

Charles has already hired two sous chefs who will run the restaurant when she’s in New York. Richard “Ricky” Penatzer has worked at Fore Street, Grace and the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, in addition to Pearl Oyster Bar, Charles said. Jonathan Bagley previously worked at Pier 77 and Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant in Kennebunkport.

Spat Oyster Cellar (spat is the term used for baby oysters) will likely be open year-round.

Charles said she doesn’t think the food scene in the Kennebunk region “has ever really gotten what it deserves,” and she’s looking forward to contributing to it herself.

She promises: “I won’t blow it.”


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