Owner Michael Vassallo at his cider bar, The Cider House, in Portland’s West End. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Michael Vassallo, owner of The Cider House at 28 Brackett St. in Portland, has announced he’s closing the West End bar for good.

Vassallo, who has worked in the restaurant industry for more than three decades, wrote in a social media post that “operating a little bar business is a risky endeavor even in the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. With a heavy heart, I’ve decided to close up shop and move on to the next adventure.”

The Cider House opened its doors in August. Vassallo said he will issue refunds for unredeemed gift cards.

Portland still has Anoche, a Basque-inspired cider bar and bistro that Erika Colby opened in November at 43 Washington Ave. The state’s first dedicated cider bar, Perennial Cider Bar + Farm Kitchen in Belfast, opened in April 2019 and is still operating.

Another sad closure: Woodhull Public House in Yarmouth

Seth Balliett and Katie Abbott, owners of Woodhull Public House in Yarmouth, announced Monday they are closing the popular bar and restaurant at 30 Forest Falls Drive permanently.

But they also had some good news: Their friends Aimee and Charlie Ely, owners of Locally Sauced, the Thompson’s Point burritos-and-more restaurant, will be moving into the Woodhull space. The Thompson’s Point location will remain open through August, and the Locally Sauced pop-up in Pownal will continue serving through July.

Woodhull Public House opened in 2016. Balliett and Abbott wrote that in recent weeks they have “come to a crossroads – where regardless of our best intentions and tireless efforts, the obstacles have become too heavy for us to carry on.”

Woodhull customers who purchased gift certificates, renewed their mug club memberships, and participated in the restaurant’s “buying your buddy a beer” program in an effort to help save the business will not receive refunds, but all of those programs will be honored by Locally Sauced.

Reached by phone, Balliett said the last day of service at Woodhull was June 5. He said the restaurant had been doing very well before the pandemic hit. They had been booking national music acts, with paid tickets, and the place was packed every night. This summer was going to be the first time Balliett was actually going to get a paycheck. Even after Maine restaurants closed, Balliett said, Woodhull was still doing fairly well with curbside pick-up. But then the restaurant’s chef quit to deal with a family emergency, and hiring someone new appeared impossible.

“How do you hire somebody and guarantee them a salary and benefits during this time?” Balliett said.

He tried revamping the menu with items he could prepare himself, but in the end, it was all just too stressful and not lucrative enough to keep going.

Balliett said he is at peace with their decision because Woodhull was never just about the food. It was about bringing people together to socialize and have a good time.

“My dream was to create a space for the community,” he said, “and we did that.”

Balliett has been working all along as a graphic designer, and he plans to continue with that career. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if he and Abbott develop a new restaurant project at some point in the future. But for now, he’s going to take some time to chill.

“I’m going to enjoy the summer for the first time in five years,” he said.

Food boxes to feed the hungry

More help is on the way for hungry Maine families. Native Maine Produce & Specialty Foods, a Westbrook-based distributor of local foods, this week was awarded $1.35 million by the U.S. Department of Agriculture so the company can participate in the agency’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program.

The distribution of food boxes to needy families is part of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which was launched in May to help farmers and other food producers affected by COVID-19. Maine was originally left out of the program, but Maine’s congressional delegation successfully appealed that decision to the USDA.

John Lunde, vice chairman of Native Maine Produce, said in a news release that the funds will help the company deliver 45,000 25-pound produce boxes to nonprofits that serve hungry Mainers.

Meanwhile, Gov. Janet Mills has asked the USDA to include maple syrup in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which provides direct payments to producers of eligible specialty crops. Mills noted in her request that Maine’s 557 maple syrup producers are suffering during the pandemic because of factors such as price drops, event cancellations and restaurant closures.

Speaking of syrup and event cancellations …

All you can eat has become you can’t eat at all because the Freeport July 4 pancake breakfast has been canceled. Photo courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

If stuffing yourself with pancakes is your idea of a great time, we have some bad news for you.

The annual all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast at St. Jude Church that usually kicks off Independence Day festivities in Freeport on July 4 has been canceled.

Last year, nearly 700 people attended the three-hour event.

And even more help for farmers

Hannaford has donated $250,000 to support farms in New England and New York that have been hurt financially by COVID-19 because of factors such as fewer sales to restaurants and reduced traffic at farmers markets.

The American Farmland Trust’s Farmer Relief Fund will distribute the funds to 250 farms.

“As a company founded by Maine farmers more than 137 years ago, Hannaford has deep connections to the agriculture industry,” Hannaford President Mike Vail said in a news release. “We have long highlighted locally-grown products in all of our stores and this donation is an extension of our commitment to the farmers and producers who serve such an integral role in nourishing our communities, preserving farmland and encouraging sustainability.”

The Maine Mushroom Company in Augusta, which sells its product mostly to restaurants, will be one of 100 Maine farms receiving relief funds. The farm lost all of its accounts within 24 hours after Maine restaurants were ordered to close in March.

“The pandemic has been devastating to our business,” said Amanda Olson, who owns the company with her husband. “Our family relies on our farm income.”

The Hannaford funding, she said, will be “a tremendous help in keeping the farm afloat and in business.”

Live in the Wiscasset area? More pizza for you!

A “neo-Neopolitan” pie from Allium Pizza. Photo courtesy of Pedro Guimaraes

Midcoast Maine has a new takeout spot for artisanal wood-fired pizza, and it’s not a restaurant.

Pedro Guimaraes launched his new mobile pizza business, Allium Pizza, at his home in Westport Island on June 12. He is taking orders online at alliumpizza.com all through the week for neopolitan-style pizzas featuring local ingredients, with pickup on Fridays between 4 and 7 p.m. Orders are paid online as well, so the transaction is contactless.

Guimaraes is a web developer who moved to Maine from New Jersey. He decided to start the pizza business on the side, in part because he was missing the “great pizza” from back home.

Guimaraes said he’s been an amateur chef his whole life, “but I was never able to make a good pizza.” So, two or three years ago, he set out to learn.

Now, he has a wood-fired oven imported from Modena, Italy, that was installed on a trailer in New York. The oven bakes pies in less than two minutes at about 800 degrees. He’s getting help from a friend and his 8-year-old daughter, so the project has been fun as well, he said.

Guimaraes’ home is just 8 minutes from Route 1, but if the business goes well, he may start selling on Route 1 later this summer, probably around Edgecomb.

Seafood cookbook fishing for recipes

The creators of a new seafood cookbook are searching for recipes.

Monique Coombs and Rebecca Spear are collecting seafood recipes, photos and stories for the “Maine Coast Fishing Families Seafood Cookbook.” Proceeds from the book will go to the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, which advocates for policies and regulations that benefit fishermen and create healthy and sustainable fisheries

The deadline to submit your seafood recipes is June 24. Send them to [email protected] or [email protected]. Coombs and Spear hope to have the cookbook ready for the holiday season.

T-shirt sale to benefit restaurant workers

Ned Swain, owner of Devenish Wines, is selling T-shirts designed by local artists to benefit the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund.

The shirts, designed by artists Ryan Adams, Kimberly Convery, Emma Lucille and Hannah Hirsch, cost $29 and will be shipped for free within the United States. They can be ordered online at devenishwine.com. Orders close July 3 for the first batch of shirts.

Maine Foodie Tours pivots to history

Portland-based Maine Foodie Tours takes locals and tourists on walking tours of some of the city’s best restaurants. But when restaurants could no longer host small groups, the tour business had to pivot (there’s that word again) just like other Maine businesses and find something new.

Maine Foodie Tours has now launched a new set of Maine History Tours in five locations – Portland, Brunswick, Kennebunkport, Biddeford and Bar Harbor. A two-and-a-half-hour Portland tour, for example, will take visitors to sites including the lobster statue, the Longfellow House, the Eastern Cemetery and the Abyssinian Church. All tours end with a sweet treat. Visit mainefoodietours.com to read descriptions of all the tours.

The all-outdoor walking tours cost $29.95 per person (or $49.95 per person for a private tour) and are limited to eight people per tour. Guests should bring a mask to wear, and guides will be wearing them too.

Maine Foodie Tours is also offering a new option called Maine Cocoa to Go that features chocolate products from all over the state and includes recipe cards, stories and videos from Maine chocolatiers. Order online at mainefoodietours.com.

Hungry for more Dr. Shah? Wilbur’s has you covered

Wilbur’s of Maine named a chocolate bar in honor of Dr. Nirav Shah, the state’s Center for Disease Control director. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

If you’re one of those people who are sweet on Dr. Nirav Shah, the Maine CDC director who urges the public during his COVID-19 briefings to call their mothers, then Wilbur’s of Maine has a treat for you.

The candy company, which has locations in Freeport and Brunswick, has created a Shah Bar in honor of the good doctor and the broadcast briefings on the pandemic that he has starred in for weeks. The bars come in milk chocolate, dark chocolate and mixed chocolate (a mix of milk and dark), and have a photo of Shah on the wrapper.

The candy bars cost $2.25 each, or $13.50 for six. Ten percent of sales will be donated to the Freeport Community Services Food Pantry.

Buy one for your mother.


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