Salvage BBQ on Congress Street in Portland. John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Portland restaurant Salvage BBQ will be closed for the first three months of 2024 because of the increasing difficulty of doing business, especially in the winter and in its West End location, according to an announcement on its website.

“Salvage BBQ will be going on hiatus from January 1st, 2024, through March of 2024,” the message reads in part. “While the first three full winter months of every year have always been relatively slow in the local restaurant industry, over the last couple of years, the impact of inflation to the cost of goods, the labor shortage and subsequent wage increases, and the ongoing construction at Maine Medical Center have made the post-holiday season particularly challenging at Salvage BBQ.”

The notice goes on to say the Congress Street restaurant plans to reopen at the beginning of April, “potentially with new menu items and a revamped service model.”

Owner Jay Villani refused to talk to a reporter about the closure, but head chef Charles Lee said owners Villani and Garry Bowcott were deeply apologetic in breaking the news to the staff last week and pledged to help them get unemployment compensation and find other work this winter. The owners are also giving each staffer an extra 40-hour paycheck, Lee said.

“If we had known in the summer they’d been thinking about (closing for the winter), that might have been better,” Lee said. “But they really wanted to make it work. It was a business decision they had to make and it was hard, but we’re all out of jobs at Christmastime, trying to heat our places and pay rent, feed our families.

“Especially right round the holidays, it’s a tough time for us in the industry to get jobs right now because normally at a restaurant you’re downsizing and holding the core crew in place for the winter,” Lee continued, noting that he is a single father of a 9-year-old girl. “It’s pretty bleak out there in terms of what we’re not going to be able to make now going into the holidays. I need a job immediately. What rent and everything costs nowadays, I live almost paycheck to paycheck. I’ve never been on unemployment, and I can’t afford to be on it.”

As a hospitality industry veteran of 16 years, Lee said he feels compassion both for his fellow staffers at Salvage and the owners. Villani opened Salvage in 2013 – his third Portland restaurant after Local 188 and Sonny’s, which is now Black Cow.

“It’s a sticky situation, and I understand it from both sides,” Lee said. “At the end of the day, it’s a business and we have to treat it like a business. Hopefully we can all get jobs.”

This story was updated at 9:50 a.m. Dec. 21 to correct the name of the chef.

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