WESTBROOK–As local restaurants prepare for the inevitable ebb and flow of the winter season, Westbrook is seeing a flurry of activity, with some well-known establishments changing hands, expanding, or even closing abruptly.

Over the past few years, Westbrook has seen an influx of restuarants adding to its downtown business base, positioning the city as arguably a more cost-effective dining alternative to neighboring Portland. This year, Westbrook House of Pizza opened at 1 Westbrook Common, and Brea Lu Cafe relocated from Portland following a fire.

Now, Asian fusion restaurants Big Fin Poké and Bamboo Bistro can be added to the list, while longtime iconic food truck Don’s Lunch looks to establish a physical location.

Despite the momentum, there have been growing pains.

In 2015, Indian restuarant Dancing Elephant announced its closure, leaving the location at 855 Main St. without a tenant for some time. Just recently, Big Fin Poké, inspired by a Hawaiian food trend, announced it would be opening soon.

Now, the beloved ice cream shop Catbird Creamery seems to have closed indefinitely. The American Journal compiled a short list this week of some of the changes in the works to the city’s culinary hotspots.

The Daily Grind

If you’ve been to the coffee drive-thru The Daily Grind in Westbrook, chances are you remember Mike Wowk, the energetic owner who provided as much of a pick-me-up as the coffee. Yet, after 16 years of running the business, Wowk has handed over operations to a well-known Westbrook couple, School Committee member Suzanne Salisbury and her husband, Joseph Salisbury.

In late November, the duo was hard at work during one of their first days, with a line of cars waiting during the morning rush. They’ve extended hours, and have been met with a boost in business. They also plan to employ their children for a little relief.

“We’ll have built-in help,” Joe Salisbury said.

The couple already have full-time jobs; he is a K-9 officer for the Maine Department of Corrections and she is a fraud investigator for L.L. Bean.

“We’ve been looking for a business to invest in,” he said.

Sue Salisbury said this week that the couple has applied for the city’s $20,000 revolving business loan, which could help them make improvements to the business.

“This has been awesome already,” she said. “He (Wowk) had some very loyal customers.”

Don’s Lunch

Another Westbrook staple, the Don’s Lunch van, is also developing some big changes. By spring, the business hopes to have its first physical location up and running at 925 Main St, featuring a drive-thru window.

For the past year, the vintage GMC van that was recently restored by new owner Craig Bernier has operated out of the parking lot of the Friendly Gas station, but Bernier said Wednesday that Don’s Lunch will soon have a 40-seat dine-in restaurant to go along with the food truck-style street service. He said once completed, the dine-in service will allow him to take the van to fairs and other mobile events.

“Within the next six months we should be in, and up-and-running,” he said.

Bamboo Bistro

On the other end of Main Street, near Sappi, another new restaurant opened last week.

Bamboo Bistro, at 1 Cumberland St., opened Dec. 6 and offers an Asian fusion menu with traditional Viatnamese, Thai and Chinese dishes, including pho, wok stir frys and vermicelli noodle bowls. The restaurant offers dine-in, take-out and delivery.

Giang Duong, the co-owner of the restaurant, said the first week “has been awesome,” with the business receiving great support from the community.

“We met and served many local people. We feel very happy, and that we made the right decision to establish our restaurant in Westbrook,” she said.

Last Friday, a large party from Idexx Laboratories took up roughly half the restaurant. Duong said she’s thankful that the community has already supported the new business.

Bamboo Bistro is at the former location of Siam Square, which closed earlier this year. Prior to opening, Duong and company made improvements to the front facade, deck and interior. Directly next door, Brea Lu Cafe and owner Christian Deluca have also received a warm welcome from Westbrook. Since opening earlier this year, the business has broken sales records.

Catbird Creamery 

Despite the continued growth downtown, there are still hiccups along the way.

On Nov. 19, acclaimed ice cream shop Catbird Creamery, known for its unique flavors, posted a message on it’s Facebook page announcing it would be closed indefinitely. No further information has been released from the company since then.

“Hi friends. We are closed until further notice. Apologies for the short notice, and please check back here for any possible updates as they come,” the message reads.

Catbird owners Andrew Warren and Corey DiGirolamo did not respond to an email and messages by the American Journal’s deadline Wednesday.

Westbrook city officials are equally in the dark about the closure. John Wipfler, the assistant city administrator, said Tuesday that he and Abigail Cioffi of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition have reached out to see if the city or the downtown coalition could help in any way, but have not heard back.

Wipfler said the business had dealt with some equipment issues lately, but did not speculate if that was the source of the abrupt closure.

In late 2014, Catbird launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to switch locations across Main Street, from its original 846 Main St. location to 861 Main St.

Other movements

In early December, Big Fin Poké announced it was hiring and working toward a grand opening soon. The restaurant will be Maine’s first poké-centered restaurant, a Hawaiian-inspired form of deconstructed sushi that is customizable.

Jimmy Liang, the owner, said in November that he was attracted to Westbrook due to its level of “activity,” also citing the recent improvements to the downtown and redesigned Bridge Street bridge.

“It made this part of Westbrook a lot more appealing,” he said.

Other changes are coming, with a new Arabic restaurant under development near Family Dollar, by the same owners of the Arabic Market on Vallee Square.

Across the street, the Transformation Project, an organization that works with young adults from Long Creek Youth Development Center, has recently purchased 907 Main St., intending to develop the property into “DJ’s Cafe,” a cafe, bakery and catering service.

No timeline has yet been announced for its opening.

Suzanne and Joseph Salisbury have taken over The Daily Grind, a popular drive-thru coffee spot off Main Street.

Bamboo Bistro opened last week at 1 Cumberland St., offering an Asian-fusion cuisine at the former location of Siam Square.

Don’s Lunch, a small Westbrook business with a big following, is in the process of establishing its first physical location. The business has for decades been achored in a GMC van, pictured at right.

A line of cars forms at the Daily Grind just a few days after Westbrook residents Suzanne and Joseph Salisbury took over operations of the popular coffee stop.