Pearl Kennebunk, a classic American brasserie owned by the same restaurateur who introduced New Yorkers to the lobster roll, is closing.

The last day of service at the restaurant, located at 27 Western Ave. in Kennebunk, will be Aug. 22. In a note to her customers on social media, chef/owner Rebecca Charles listed an assortment of problems that, when taken together, created a perfect storm the business could not survive.

“Staffing and financial difficulties, exacerbated by the pandemic, have proven to be insurmountable,” she said.

The coronavirus has claimed a number of notable Maine restaurants and bars, including Vinland – which served all local foods – the Old Port Thai restaurant Cheevitdee and Flood’s, all in Portland. The Cider House on the city’s West End and Arabica’s Commercial Street coffee house were also forced to shut down.

Federal aid helped many other restaurants keep their doors open as the pandemic raged on, but now that aid is no longer available, and with staffing and supply issues adding to already heavy financial burdens, there may be more closures on the horizon.

Charles herself told the Maine Sunday Telegram earlier this summer that she expects to see “crazy ripple effects” from the pandemic on the restaurant industry in the coming months.


Pearl Kennebunk was a longstanding dream for Charles, who also owns Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City. Her small Manhattan restaurant became wildly popular (and widely copied) for its casual seafood menu when it opened in 1997. But even back then, Charles – whose family has summered in Kennebunk since 1917 and who was once the executive chef at the renowned White Barn Inn – always wanted a sister restaurant in Maine.

Charles bought the Western Avenue property in 2016 and in fall of that year opened an oyster bar in the basement called Spat Oyster Cellar, a nod to the oyster saloons and cellars that dotted New York City in the 1800s. The following year, she opened the upstairs dining room as Pearl Kennebunk. As she worked on the restaurant, she also built herself a new home and is now a full-time Maine resident, commuting to New York City when she needs to.

The food at Pearl Kennebunk has always been well received. The Maine Sunday Telegram gave the restaurant four stars in 2018.

But from the start, there was trouble. A malfunctioning sprinkler system caused $400,000 in damage before the restaurant even opened. Then came 2020 and a global pandemic, followed by severe staffing shortages. Charles shortened the restaurant’s hours, streamlined the menu, and blocked reservations. Despite raising pay, she began the summer with 30 percent less staff.

“I took a big risk when I opened this restaurant in Maine, and it hasn’t been financially successful,” Charles told the Maine Sunday Telegram in June. “(It’s been) critically successful, but you can’t put that on a plate and eat it, and you can’t pay your mortgage with it.”

Charles says diners who have gift certificates should call the restaurant and leave a message, and she will do her best to squeeze them in before it closes. She will also honor Pearl Kennebunk gift certificates at her restaurant in New York.

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