Brea Lu Cafe kitchen manager Melissa Leduc, left, and owner Christian DeLuca watch as customers file in for the “breakfast for dinner” benefit for The Sinful Kitchen employees Wednesday. Chance Viles / American Journal

Staff at Brea Lu Cafe in Westbrook worked an extra, unusual shift Tuesday and raised more than $4,000 for the employees of The Sinful Kitchen in Portland, who lost wages when a fire forced that restaurant to temporarily close just before the holidays.

Brea Lu owner Christian DeLuca said he and his staff pulled a nearly 20-hour day to offer their breakfast menu during dinnertime, when they are normally closed. The total money made during the special hours will go to the 14 Sinful Kitchen employees down the street, on Brighton Avenue at Nason’s Corner.

“It went really well,” DeLuca said Wednesday morning. “We raised over four grand last night. We’re still accepting donations until Friday.”

Right at 4 p.m., customers started to fill tables for the benefit. Chance Viles / American Journal

The December fire at The Sinful Kitchen damaged the kitchen and shut down the popular brunch spot for 10 days. It’s back up and running, but DeLuca said he hopes his benefit will help make up for the employees didn’t get when they weren’t working.

The pain of a fire is something DeLuca understands well. Brea Lu moved to Cumberland Mills about about six years ago after their Portland restaurant burned down in a fire that started in an upstairs apartment.

“It just hit me when I saw the fire. I drive by the restaurant four or five times a day,” DeLuca said.

The Sinful Kitchen had some shutdowns over the summer because of the pandemic, he said. 

“They’ve had a rough go of it. I figured we can do something,” he said. 

A line cook prepares breakfast at Brea Lu. The staff worked from 7 a.m. Tuesday through 9 p.m. time to raise money for Sinful Kitchen employees. Contributed / Brea Lu Cafe

The Sinful Kitchen owner Dave Mallari said Brea Lu’s benefit will be a huge help to his 14 employees. While insurance covers much of what the restaurant lost, workers cannot make up their wages.

“We closed over 10 days right before Christmas, which is pretty rough because our employees have families, especially the wait staff,” Mallari said.

DeLuca said breakfast for dinner was a perfect idea for the benefit. His patrons have been asking them to stay open for dinner for a while, he said, but he has lacked the manpower to expand hours. While the restaurant still doesn’t have enough employees to extend the hours, it was able to pull off the benefit the benefit because of the dedication of his staff, he said. He and some of his employees ended up working 20 hours by the end of the day when prep and cleanup were factored in.

“I’m extremely proud of my staff,”  DeLuca said, and he sent out special thanks to The Daily Grind coffee shop on Main Street for its help with the event.

Other Westbrook restaurants and businesses also pitched in for a raffle to benefit The Sinful Kitchen.

“A lot of people are volunteering or donating to this and it shows how the community can come together, “DeLuca said. “The restaurant industry is a nightmare right now with the pandemic, so it’s important.”

Mallari said he is “really grateful” for everything that has been done.

“The community and our patrons have really shown up for us,” he said.

 

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