Stacy Cooper, co-owner of Biscuits & Company, back in the day. The restaurant is closing for good on Saturday. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Biscuits & Company, a sweet, homey spot in Biddeford serving big, fluffy biscuits with an array of toppings, as well as other classic baked goods, has announced its closure. Its last day will be Saturday.

The cafe, at 25 Alfred St., was founded by Stacy Cooper in 2014; Erik Johannes joined in 2017 and eventually became a partner in the business. The cafe also held cooking classes and catered events.

According to a letter the two sent its customers, “We’ve done our best to ‘pandemic pivot’ in this extraordinary environment of the past eighteen months, and we’ve experienced the same rising costs, supply chain issues and staffing shortages that every restaurant has. Combined with some personal health challenges it became a perfect storm for us. After much deliberation, emotion and calculation, we have finally decided that the time has come to close Biscuits & Company.”

In an email, Cooper said she’d been suffering from the ill effects of long COVID.

The letter also announced that the owners are looking for a buyer for their business, including “proprietary recipes,” equipment and furnishings to either carry the Biscuit & Company concept forward or to use for another venture (the partners do not own the building). “Keep shopping local,” the letter concluded. “Keep eating biscuits.”

Cooper said in an email that she plans to focus on her health, “so who knows what will come next … maybe a new venture, maybe writing, maybe a simple retirement!” Johannes is “pursuing other interests.”

File under ‘Now Everybody Knows’

Cong Tu Bot in 2017, not long after it opened. The restaurant, and menu, have been redesigned because of the pandemic, and the New York Times is a fan. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Cong Tu Bot in Portland has been named to the New York Times 2021 restaurant list, released Tuesday, subtitled “The 50 places in America we’re most excited about right now.” It is the only restaurant in Maine on the list.

“Happiness is a bowl of Cong Tu Bot’s chao chay on a chilly Maine morning,” Times writer Priya Krishna opens her glowing one-paragraph write-up of the Vietnamese restaurant.

Proprietors, husband and wife Vien Dobui and Jessica Sheahan, could not immediately be reached for comment.

In September, the restaurant, at 57 Washington Ave., changed its focus from dinner service to Vietnamese breakfast and lunch. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays.

Step right up, Friends & Family

Friends & Family, a carefully curated hybrid market-cafe at 593 Congress St., opened on Thursday.

The cafe, which occupies the old Vinland space, serves a seasonal, locally focused menu of small plates and meat and cheese boards, as well as a changing wine and beer selection. Among the dishes now on the menu are classic pork rillettes, and eggplant confit with house-made hot honey and Skowhegan’s Crooked Face Creamery Cold-Smoked Ricotta (so far, “a sleeper hit,” said co-owner Cecily Upton).

The doors are open, literally and metaphorically, at Friends & Family on Congress Street. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

“As rich as the restaurant scene is here, it was missing a spot where you could come for a glass of wine and a bite to eat,” she said.

The market sells wine, Maine beers, specialty pantry products, and salamis and cheeses.

Upton’s business (and life) partner is Michael Malyniwsky. When the pair signed the lease, they thought – hoped – the pandemic would be over by the time their business opened. Alas, not. But the two felt “the gap of not having restaurants for so long,” Upton said, “of not being able to dine and commune with people over food.”

The pandemic also may have provided an opening for their mix of high-quality food with casual counter service: “The way the world has been upended has maybe upended the expectations that people have of a restaurant experience,” said Upton, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth.

Friends & Family is open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and 4-8 p.m. Mondays, which is pizza night. The couple chose to operate Sundays and Mondays, when many other restaurants are shuttered, because “a lot of our friends and family are in the restaurant business,” Upton said. “We really wanted to provide a space where they could have the experiences that they provide for so many.”

Something new is waiting to be born 

Four colleagues from Portland’s Float Harder, a sensory deprivation center, plan to open the Grateful Cup a few blocks away in the same East Deering neighborhood. The to-go eatery, at 46 Veranda St., will offer items that skew light and healthy, like fruit-and-vegetable-based smoothies and smoothie bowls, as well as coffee and possibly sandwiches and wraps.

Samantha Allen, who is partnering in the business with Jessica Rexford and James and Amy Harder, said they are awaiting permits from the city before they can open. Once they get those, they hope to have the Grateful Cup open within about six weeks. Two of the four worked in food service for many years. Hours may be 7 a.m. to midafternoon.

Several of the partners are Grateful Dead fans, Allen said, which accounts for the name. “My goal is if you don’t know the band, you would never know when you walk in. But if you do love the Dead, there are some fun references and puns and a tip of the hat. We are trying not to go overboard. We are not just a bunch of dirty hippies,” she laughed, “but we really do love the Grateful Dead.”

Look for opening updates on Instagram and Facebook.

Speed and quality front and center at new Free Street venue

A “funky neighborhood bar with elevated pub fare and craft cocktails” is slated to open in the old Binga’s Stadium on Free Street in Portland. (Binga’s Stadium is moving to Forest Avenue between Woodfords Corner and Morrills Corner.)

The description comes from Eli Shapiro, one of three partners in the venture, to be called Free Street Restaurant and Cocktail Bar. The others are Jamie Duhamel, who grew up in Falmouth, and Jay Town, who grew up in Gray. The three are old friends, said Shapiro, the cocktail expert within the trio, and have been dreaming about such a venture for some time. Duhamel will take the lead on the music part of the business – they’ve designed a venue for up-and-coming performers in the basement. (“We just want to show love to the little guy,” Shapiro said.) Josh Carraha has signed on as executive chef.

Because the sizable 17,000-square-f00t spot is a neighbor of the Cross Insurance Arena, food and drink are being designed for efficiency and speed, Shapiro said.

“We are preparing for volume and good, fast service,” he said, emphasizing that Free Street won’t stint on quality. Expect bespoke ice cubes, house-made bitters and barrel-aged cocktails, for instance, but not the showmanship that goes along with crafting cocktails one at a time. “Normally making a drink can take 2 to 3 to 5 minutes,” he said. “That is not going to fly when there are 200 to 300 people here all at once and time is money.”

The menu is still being developed, but Shapiro described the general direction as elevated pub food with “smokehouse influences” and fun items like corn dogs made from Wagyu beef. Beers, mostly from Maine, will also be available.

Free Street Restaurant and Cocktail Bar is still awaiting licensing, permitting and inspection from the city, but Shapiro said they’re aiming to open the doors in early November.

Find updates – and also playful descriptions of the place like this one, “We are the rebellious friend you had growing up that your parents wouldn’t let you have sleepovers with” – on Instagram.

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