Rick Wood hands Molly Wood a breakfast sandwich for a customer at their restaurant, Rick’s Lobby Cafe, on Monday. The owners of the building on Congress Street didn’t renew the cafe’s lease, saying the space would be undergoing renovations and cosmetic upgrades, and that they did not plan to have a retail food presence in the lobby after the work is completed. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On weekdays since 2015, Rick Wood has served up breakfast and lunch sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks and a heaping helping of warm hospitality not just to his customers, but to anyone passing by Rick’s Lobby Café on the ground floor of the Post Office Square building.

When the cafe closes for good next week, a hole will be left in the lunch breaks of downtown workers and in the heart of Portland.

Wood’s wife, Molly, who has been working the cafe’s cashier station for about a year and a half, says that while the tiny to-go eatery wedged into the front of the lobby does brisk, steady business, about three-quarters of the people she interacts with and assists during the workday aren’t her customers. Full of smiles and bubbly energy, she cheerily gives directions to wayward tourists, shows new employees in the upper floors of their 400 Congress St. building where the bathrooms are, and holds a very hard-to-open door – unequipped with a handicapped push button – so that people can enter the post office from the lobby.

“This door is absurdly heavy, so anytime I see anyone with a stroller, a wheelchair or a walker, I run and get the door for them,” Molly Wood said, noting that she finds herself extra busy with door duty around the holidays when people walk through the lobby with their arms full of packages to ship. Monday morning alone, she held the door at least four times in one hour for elderly people with walkers and canes.

The Woods classify themselves as “people people,” so they don’t really mind the added duties; they actually seem to relish the chance to engage with people however they can.

Molly Wood chats with customers at Rick’s Lobby Cafe on Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

But their gracious presence in the building soon will come to an end. In May, as the couple were celebrating the cafe’s eighth anniversary, the building owners informed them that their lease would not be renewed, and that they would need to vacate by the end of October. The Woods have set Friday, Sept. 1, as the cafe’s last day.


A spokesperson for Exchange Street Partners, the Woods’ landlord at the property, was not available for an interview Monday. Drew Sigfridson, a partner with The Boulos Company, brokers for the building, confirmed that the lobby space would be undergoing renovations and cosmetic upgrades, and that the owners did not plan to have a retail food presence in the lobby after the work is complete.

“Rick’s been a great longtime tenant, and we wish him all the best,” Sigfridson said.

The turn of events has been upsetting for the Woods, who have built their business over the past eight years in the hopes of selling it to a new operator, just as they bought The Lobby Cafe from previous owner Dan Fuente for about $18,000.

“Change is always hard, and when it’s not on your terms, it’s even harder,” said Molly Wood. “We’ve worked hard to be the heart and soul of this little area, and we’re going to miss it.”


The Woods’ regular customers will miss them right back.


“It’s going to be sad to lose them,” said Ann Marie Folan, who works on Exchange Street and has been coming to Rick’s since it first opened. “Walk in here, it’s going to be empty? Even if I’m having a bad day, Molly’s always so upbeat, Rick’s always so kind, it kind of turns your day around. They’re wonderful people, always here for us. You get really good food and wonderful company here, and it’s comforting.”

Folan’s brother, Martin, a valet at the nearby Press Hotel, said he and his colleagues always recommend Rick’s to hotel guests. “I haven’t had anyone be disappointed by it,” he said.

“It’s one of the few shops around town where people actually get to know you still,” said Kay Kerina, who also works downtown. “They genuinely want to get to know their customers and know their orders. They’re such awesome people. They do such a great job of creating a warm and welcoming presence there.”

Jim Foley, of Portland, comes to Rick’s about three times a week. “They’ve been here for years, and it’s been a mainstay,” Foley said. “I’ve seen them talk with everybody from all spectrums. It’s just a gathering place for the downtown area.”

Molly Wood chats with Ryan Plevney while he picks up his breakfast at Rick’s Lobby Cafe on Monday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Even people who visit the post office more often than the cafe will be sad to see Rick’s go. A man the Woods only know as “Kenny,” passing through after a postal errand Monday morning, offered a light-hearted observation without breaking stride as he walked out the door. “You come to this post office, you’ve got friendly people to say good morning to you. That’s not normal,” he said, prompting the Woods and their customers to erupt in laughter.

A steady stream of classic funk, soul and R&B music – James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin – from a small green Bluetooth speaker by the kitchen bolsters the upbeat vibe the Woods have worked so hard to foster here. Sitting behind her cashier table in a cheery green dress patterned with palm fronds, Molly Wood directed a customer to sign a small, orange Moleskine notebook dedicated to messages from well-wishers as Rick’s comes to an end, just as the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” comes up on the playlist.


Molly Wood recalled how a friend who worked in the building alerted her and Rick eight years ago that the café was for sale, and urged them to look into it. Rick, a graduate of the Southern Maine Community College culinary program who cooked at the former Walter’s restaurant, was the breakfast cook at the Portland Regency Hotel at the time.

Molly Wood said they were reluctant, but checked out the space regardless. “When I walked in, I was like, ‘Oh, OK, this is a little less scary to take on than an entire seated restaurant,’ ” she said. “It was still terrifying to open in the first place, but it was doable, and the people who worked in the building were super excited for a fresh face and menu.”

Rick Wood finishes up a breakfast order at Rick’s Lobby Cafe. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Rick ran the café on his own for the first six years, and with practice soon was able to balance the demands of cooking and interfacing with customers. The cafe menu under the previous owner was “simple and straightforward,” said Wood, who applied the culinary knowledge he’d gleaned over the years and expanded the menu to offer some more creative dishes and put his own mark on the space.

“Though it’s still at its core very simple and straightforward – breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, coffee – there’s a little soul behind it, a little extra love,” Rick Wood said, calling out a breakfast sandwich tinged with maple syrup and a touch of Dijon mustard as an example. ” ‘Sandwiches with Soul’ has always been my motto here, and it speaks to the food, the music and the heart behind it.”


His customers have raved about the food. The café has a 4.9-star average from 58 critiques on Google reviews.


“I had visitors just last week leave with a bag full of sandwiches and call me 10 minutes later just to tell me how much they loved it and how happy they were to have found this little gem,” he said.

“I’m a little bit of a foodie and quite picky, so I have selfish reasons for being upset that they’re being forced to close,” said regular breakfast customer Ian Baird. “His breakfast wraps, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t know that anyone comes close to it anywhere in town. They’re well constructed, not over-sauced, and they’re the same every single time. Consistent quality, and that’s sometimes difficult to find these days.”

Rick Wood makes a breakfast wrap at Rick’s Lobby Cafe. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Wood works his magic in a tiny galley kitchen outfitted with a small refrigerated prep table, one of the only pieces of commercial equipment in the space. He fries eggs and ham on a Black + Decker home griddle, and toasts bread in two Black + Decker double toasters. He said in the past he’d wanted to buy a commercial griddle unit and make some renovations to upgrade his work area, but couldn’t get the landlords’ support.

Wood pushes up to 60 breakfast and lunch orders a day out of the 32-square-foot space. Around 10:30 a.m., he starts making grab-and-go sandwiches to stay ahead of the lunch rush.

“Efficiency and anticipation have always been my best kitchen tools in this unique space,” he said. “This is like a food truck – a food cart, really, with a roof.”

Late morning Monday, tourists from Boston stopped in for a coffee and set their sweet, scruffy Cavapoo named Churro on one of the cafe’s two seats. “That’s our favorite kind of customer,” cooed Molly Wood. The Woods have three dogs of their own, and have even dog-sat for some customers and people they’ve met in the building.


Molly Wood said since news of their imminent closing has spread, the question she hears most from customers is, “Where is Rick’s moving now?”

“We couldn’t – and wouldn’t want to – do this anywhere else,” she said.

The couple has a few business ideas they’re mulling, though their next step may not be food-related. “Right now, in our minds, we want to take a step back from the restaurant industry for a bit and recalculate,” Rick Wood said.

In the meantime, the Woods have several more days to steep in the joyous atmosphere they’ve created. As “Sneaking Through the Alley with Sally” plays from the kitchen speaker and a post office customer breaks into a groovy shuffle as he walks by, Molly Wood said she’s coming to dread Monday, Sept. 4, the first weekday Rick’s will be closed for good.

“I will miss owning a successful business,” she said. “And the people. We have a lot of regulars who are almost like family now.”

“I’ll miss seeing how excited people get about what they’re receiving down here,” Rick Wood said. “We just want to see people happy, and we see a lot of that here.”

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