California seafood chain finally ready to crack Portland market

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PORTLAND — Russell Deutsch is ready for a homecoming, even if it is a bit later than expected.

“There is no rush, I want to do it right,” he said Monday about his delayed plans to open the Old Port Lobster Shack in late April at 425 Fore St.

It has been almost a year since city councilors approved a license for the restaurant, which would be the first on the East Coast for the California chain.

Deutsch, a Boston native and Portland area resident for about 12 years in the 1980s and ’90s, moved to the San Francisco area and opened his first Old Port Lobster Shack in 2006. The chain now has three restaurants in California, with two more under construction.

“I thought I’d bring something I have a little knowledge in,” he said about selling Maine lobster in the Silicon Valley area.

Last year, Deutsch and business partner Michael Michalski decided an Old Port Lobster Shack would be a good fit in the original Old Port, at the site of the former Helene M clothing store that was owned by Michalski and his wife, Helene.

Councilors unanimously approved the license, but work to convert the store into a restaurant was delayed long enough to prevent opening during the 2015 tourist season.

“We would have had to open in the winter,” Deutsch said. “I don’t want to open anything in the winter in Maine.”

The partners held onto their lease from landlord East Brown Cow and restarted the project last November. Deutsch said a small mold problem was mitigated with help from the landlord, although he is uncertain if he’ll have to reapply for a city license.

It will be a small hurdle if he does, said Deutsch, who is looking forward to the spring and attracting customers with outdoor dining.

Deutsch said he and Michalski will spend significant time in Maine this summer, and he is looking forward to seeing his old haunts. At one point, he said, he lived almost across the street from where his restaurant will be, in a Fore Street apartment above what is now Pearl Tap House.

“I’m not a franchise, and I lived here,” Deutsch said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Owner Russell Deutsch on Monday said he expects the Old Port Lobster Shack to open in April at 425 Fore St., Portland.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.