Diners look over the menu at Emilitsa in Portland in 2016. Photo by Joel Page/Staff Photographer

The family that owns Emilitsa, a restaurant at 547 Congress St. that has been serving Portland diners traditional, rustic Greek cuisine since 2008, announced Friday that “with great sadness” they have closed their doors for good.

“What began as a passion project to serve our favorite Greek dishes quickly grew into a place that welcomed countless guests over the years, many of whom arrived as strangers and left as friends,” read a goodbye message posted on social media late Friday afternoon.

John Regas, who owned the restaurant with his brother, Demos Regas, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. But in May he described to the Press Herald the difficulties the restaurant had gone through during the pandemic.

He said the restaurant was able to pay its expenses up until November 2020, when several Portland restaurants had to close temporarily for testing and cleaning because of COVID-19 cases. That made people skittish about dining indoors, he said, and “business totally fell through the floor.”

After about a month of losses, Regas made the decision to close the doors until conditions improved. The restaurant reopened Aug. 10.

Darcy Halvorsen of South Portland, a regular for a decade who ate at the restaurant about once a month before the pandemic hit, called Emilitsa “an upscale restaurant with a heart.”

“I’m absolutely heartbroken,” she said. “It’s my favorite restaurant in the city of Portland.”

Halvorsen, who last visited Emilitsa at the end of August, said she will take away fond memories of John Regas, who “always makes you feel as if he knows you and he remembers you,” as well as her favorite dishes, including the “extraordinary” moussaka.

Regas loves to fish, which perhaps explains Emilitsa’s parting words: “If you need us, we’ll be fishing under the pines.”

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