The Brea Lu Cafe at 428 Forest Ave., damaged by a Valentine’s Day fire, will permanently close at its current location, the owner said Monday.

Christian DeLuca said he is searching for a new spot to reopen the restaurant, which has been on Forest Avenue for 30 years and serves only breakfast and lunch. He’s found one space that looks promising but won’t disclose its location until he signs a lease. “I’m moving Brea Lu to a new spot – that’s it,” DeLuca said. “Plain and simple. We’re doing what we do now, just moving somewhere else.”

If the location he wants works out, the new Brea Lu will no longer be in Portland but will be “very close,” DeLuca said, hinting that it would be just outside the city limits. The possible new site used to be a restaurant, but it needs a lot of cosmetic work, DeLuca said. It has the potential for outdoor seating and parking “which was a big problem for us (on Forest Avenue) and a big complaint from our customers.”

Brea Lu, a popular hangout for students from the University of Southern Maine, was located in a small brick building adjacent to the apartment building where the fire broke out on Feb. 14. No one was hurt in the fire, which was not considered suspicious, but the restaurant’s equipment was ruined. DeLuca said he’s been “in limbo” the past three months, waiting for the space to be rehabbed, and he was released from his lease two days ago.

DeLuca said the personal impact of the fire has been “devastating.” DeLuca said his grandfather first brought him to the restaurant when he was a child, when it was called the Hall of Fame Cafe, and he became a regular through high school. After he graduated, DeLuca moved away from Portland for 20 years. When he came home for visits, “that would be the first place I’d go.” He bought the restaurant in 2007.

DeLuca had his first date with his wife, Anna, there, and he proposed to her there. When his daughter was born with a hole in her heart and needed two open-heart surgeries, the Brea Lu gave DeLuca a place to go and be comforted.

“If I didn’t have the Brea Lu, I probably would have gone crazy,” he said.

Now the restaurateur is getting similar comfort from customers who have flooded the business’ Facebook page with thousands of supportive comments. Some of them have offered to help find a new location, or paint the new restaurant once DeLuca has chosen a spot.

“Our customers are aching to come back,” DeLuca said. “We get people who went to USM and they bring their families back, saying ‘I used to eat here when I was in college.’ ”

DeLuca said the new Brea Lu will have about 50 seats, compared with 44 in the original location. He had recently received a liquor license so he could serve Bloody Marys, Irish coffee and other brunch-style cocktails, and he plans to build a bar in the new location so that can continue. The new place may have “a handful of taps” as well, DeLuca said.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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