Back Bay Grill, a mecca of old-school fine dining in Portland since 1988, is closing for good.

Owner Larry Matthews Jr. made the announcement on Facebook and in an email to his customers Thursday.

“It’s just time. It’s sad to see it come to an end, but that’s what has to happen,” Matthews said in a phone interview. He has owned Back Bay Grill since 2002, and has cooked there since 1997, about half his life. “I didn’t feel like I had any more to give.”

Matthews said on Facebook that he’ll be clearing out the restaurant this month and selling equipment and other items. He is currently working as a carpenter, work that absorbs him, and told the Press Herald he has no plans to embark on any food-related projects “for a long time.”

“I’m new again and learning again, and it’s a really refreshing feeling. I love the process of learning. Not to say that I’d learned everything in the restaurant business,” he added in classic self-deprecating style.

Fans of the restaurant flocked to Facebook Thursday to express their sadness that the restaurant was closing.


Karen Crowley of Saco said that she and her husband ate at the restaurant every year on their anniversary.

“It was such a special place to go,” she wrote. Her husband, Michael Crowley, “has since passed away. He was also a chef and raved about the meals.”

Last August, Matthews announced he was stepping back from running the day-to-day operations and that his restaurant would be run by a new, three-person management team known as Six Degrees at Back Bay Grill. Since then, Matthews said, “we’d hoped to find somebody to take (the restaurant) over, but that didn’t work out.”

Also in August, Adrian Stratton, Back Bay Grill’s general manager and a fixture at the restaurant for 18 years, left for a job at Old Port Spirits. “When he left, that was the final straw,” Matthews said. “I didn’t want to do it with anybody else. He and I were a team.”

Another longtime staffer, dishwasher William “Franco” Tucker, will start work at the Knotted Apron in Portland’s Rosemont neighborhood next week. In an interview, Matthews mentioned, and praised, many on his staff over the years by name. “Over the years, the staff I’ve had has been just incredible.”

Harding Smith is the chef/owner of three Portland restaurants, the Front Room, the Grill Room and the Corner Room, and years ago worked as a sous chef at Back Bay Grill.


“It’s definitely a loss for Portland,” Smith said Thursday in a telephone interview. “Back Bay Grill was a tremendous institution. Larry is the one person who kept the restaurant scene alive and well in Portland. Back Bay Grill has been a beacon of fine dining for so long, there’s just not a lot of places like that any more.”

Smith said Matthews mentored a lot of prominent chefs who went on to start their own restaurants. Matthews was an “old school” restauranteur, paying attention to the details that made dining out a special occasion, Smith said.

Matthews cooked his last meal at Back Bay Grill in August, his 19-year-old son and his longtime sous chef on the line with him and the restaurant filled with family, friends and regulars. For a while after that, even cooking dinner at home seemed onerous. He said he’d joked with his new workmates about it: “You know, I don’t even want to make toast anymore.”

“There are so many factors in it,” he said of his decision to close, mentioning the labor shortage and work/life balance, along with his desire for a change. “Death by papercuts,” he said. “Some of the cuts are a little deeper than others, but it really wasn’t ‘This one thing happened, and I didn’t want to be in business anymore.’

“I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Back Bay Grill had been closed since late December. “We were planning to take the winter off, then regroup in the spring.”


Press Herald restaurant critic Andrew Ross gave the acclaimed eatery 4 ½ stars in his 2020 review.

Anne Dalton of Falmouth was one of many commenters on Facebook who lamented the end of the Back Bay Grill and said it been the scene of many memorable meals.

“Back Bay Grill was that one restaurant my husband and I would go (to) when we wanted a truly special evening,” she said. “Food, ambience, just everything.”

Matthews was moved by the outpouring of support and praise.

“I’m overwhelmed by the people reaching out today, and to know how important the place was to people over the years,” he said. “But I didn’t want to reopen and do this half-heartedly. It’s certainly the end of an era.”

Food Editor Peggy Grodinsky and Staff Writers Dennis Hoey and Edward D. Murphy contributed to this article.

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