Chef Mike Wiley, one of the three founding partners of Portland-based restaurant company Big Tree Hospitality and a James Beard award winner, is leaving the company after about a decade.

“I really value the work and believe in it, but it requires so much complete commitment and surrender,” said Wiley, 40, who had his first child last year. “Having a growing family, it felt like less of a priority.”

Big Tree operates the wildly popular Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland and Boston, pan-Asian Honey Paw in Portland and the fine-dining Hugo’s, also in Portland, which has been closed since the start of the pandemic and will not reopen until spring at the earliest. The company also has a commissary kitchen in Biddeford that helps supply the restaurants as well as Big Tree Grocery, which sells the company’s artisanal food items, such as charcuterie, housemade nori potato chips, and (for Christmas) prime rib roast, for pickup in southern Maine and Boston.

Big Tree, which employs some 120 to 150 people, also has a presence on Goldbelly, where it offers a kit for its nationally acclaimed brown butter lobster rolls. The three Portland restaurants, which sit in a row on Middle Street, have received much local and national attention.

“I feel incredibly blessed. I’ve no litany of regrets or unchecked boxes,” Wiley said. “I’m still relatively young. Maybe I’ve got another chapter or two in me.”

Wiley, who will leave Big Tree at the end of the year, said he has not yet planned his next move, although he does not expect to run a restaurant. Andrew Taylor and Arlin Smith, the remaining Big Tree founding partners, will continue to operate the company, and Taylor said that while Wiley will be greatly missed, customers will not notice any major changes.

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Wiley, Taylor and Smith met when they worked at Hugo’s more than a decade ago under husband-and-wife team Nancy Pugh and Rob Evans. Co-workers and friends, they eventually bought the restaurant, and at the same time opened Eventide in the former Rabelais bookstore space next door. Eventide succeeded beyond their wildest dreams – in the summer, wait times for a table can be as much as two hours – and over the years, the company continued to grow.

“We’ve had a wonderful run. It’s been awesome,” Taylor said. “I’m sad it’s coming to a close in its previous form, but we will carry on.”

Wiley said he had been thinking about leaving for a few years, a decision that was somewhat hastened by the tumult of the pandemic. He said he hopes to spend more time writing (he has a master’s degree in rhetoric) and perhaps eventually work on “making a single beautiful (food) product simply and beautifully.”

At the company, Wiley was known for lending a sympathetic ear to staff concerns, Taylor said, and “from a culinary perspective, he brought a whole lot of methodology and precision to the food.” But Taylor added that what he’ll miss most when Wiley leaves is the three partners’ team decision-making process, honed over years.

The company, which has several partners with smaller ownership stakes, bought out Wiley’s share. Wiley and Taylor both declined to say for how much.

What does it take to run such a successful company in such a notoriously tough business? Passion, hard work and diligence, Wiley said, but also timing, “particularly with Eventide. We didn’t know that America was going to fall in love with oysters.” And some luck.

“For the vast majority of my time working on Middle Street, I can honestly say that there wasn’t any other place I wanted to be,” he said.

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