Tortilla Flat, a family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant on Forest Avenue since 1978, announced the restaurant is closed for good. Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

Tortilla Flat, a family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant that opened in Portland in 1978, closed permanently Sunday to the surprise and disappointment of regular customers and staff from its 44 years in business.

The owners announced the closure on the restaurant’s Facebook page Monday. The post, signed by the Powell family, thanked customers and reminded them that the Merrimack, New Hampshire, location of Tortilla Flat will remain open, but gave no reason for the closure. Reached over Facebook, they did not respond to specific questions about the decision to close nor to a request for an interview.

“Eventually all good things come to an end, it was just time … The owner and family look forward to enjoying their time together,” a message said.

The Portland location of Tortilla Flat, on Forest Avenue, closed temporarily in May 2021, citing an inability to hire enough staff. Bartender Sarah Anthony, who did not know during her shift Sunday that it would be her last, said staffing remained a problem and had worsened recently.

Anthony, who started working at the restaurant a few months ago, said the restaurant was already having difficulty attracting enough experienced employees, but a couple of weeks ago, more staff members had to cut back their hours for other jobs, school and personal reasons.

“Within a month, the restaurant was facing a shortage of five employees going from basically being available all the time to having limited availability. It was a scary prospect,” Anthony said.


Although the restaurant closing was “something you never wanted to see happen,” Anthony said she is looking forward to finding a job at another local establishment and is going back to teaching in the fall.

Anthony said she went into the restaurant Tuesday to retrieve her last paycheck and spoke with owner TK Powell, who told her he waited to make the announcement until after closing because of the staffing shortage.

“He was afraid we couldn’t have handled the volume and didn’t want folks to have a bad experience on potentially their last night visiting,” Anthony said.

Lynda Adams, who had been going to Tortilla Flat for 20 years, was on her way to the restaurant to buy a gift card for her friend’s birthday when she saw the Facebook post about it closing.

Adams said she was “really disappointed” and that it was a place she went for many occasions throughout the years: after-work hangouts, family gatherings and birthdays.

“Most recently, within the past year, some friends and I have gone there for their trivia night on Thursday nights. It’s really fun there. So now we’re going to find someplace else to go, I guess,” Adams said.


Jessica Verdejo started working at Tortilla Flat in the spring of 2018 as a server, then later became the dining room manager. She left after three years to work at a recovery agency in Portland, but has returned several times since.

“It just seems like they couldn’t maintain a solid staff to run the restaurant, so they were having to switch their hours around and things like that. It was very inconsistent,” Verdejo said.

The staff, Adams said, was a huge part of the restaurant-going experience.

“All their staff there was always really great, very accommodating and very friendly,” Adams said. “Hopefully we’ll run across some again.”

When Kimberly Stone started working at Tortilla Flat about 30 years ago, there were four locations across New England, she said.

“You always did see people from the other restaurants come up, patrons if they’re in the area, and just really be excited about coming in. So that was always really special,” said Stone. “They’ll be really missed. But I’ll definitely be driving to Merrimack at some point.”


To Stone, who worked there on and off for more than 20 years, the most important part of the restaurant was its “family atmosphere.”

“TK and (Maureen Powell) were great employers, they were just great people to be around. They really treated their staff like family,” Stone said.

The family atmosphere extended beyond the staff too, Stone said. It was a place where people had first dates and weekly meet-ups.

Anthony called the restaurant’s customers “generational” and recalled a time that was evident, when she served a former student of hers.

“He said that his dad used to bring him there and so now he was bringing his kids there. And I feel like that’s kind of the legacy that Tortilla Flat has had in Portland,” Anthony said.

“It’s gonna leave a gap,” said Adams.”It’s been a staple in Portland for a long time.”

Staff Writer Tim Cebula contributed to this report.

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