New eateries set to open in South Portland's Knightville neighborhood

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Two area women are hoping to spice up the local dining scene in the coming weeks by opening new restaurants in Knightville. 

The Snow Squall, 18 Ocean St., is getting ready to reopen, perhaps as soon as Nov. 18, and the Zeta Cafe could begin serving dinner in the old Emma D’s and Barbara’s diner spot on the Legion Square rotary at E and Ocean streets by Dec. 1.

Heather LaRou said that renovations to the Snow Squall are nearly complete. Work includes a new ceiling, a longer cherry-top bar, a new hardwood floor in the lower dining area and a gas fireplace enclosed by glass on three sides.

The food will not exactly resemble the menu of the former Snow Squall, which closed in 2005. Menu items will range from $8 to $25. 

Until last month, LaRou ran the Porthole restaurant in Portland. But she said she decided that after 10 years she needed a change of pace. Since most of the Porthole menu was her creation, LaRou said, many of those items will find their way to the new Snow Squall menu, including the salmon wrap, jambalaya, hangar steak and crispy pan-seared ravioli.

The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner Wednesdays through Fridays and breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays. It will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays. 

“I’m really trying to do things other people aren’t doing,” LaRou said. “Cuisine has changed. People are a little more health conscience. I want to keep it simple and sweet, with a little bit of flair.”  

LaRou said she hopes to get her occupancy permit on Monday, Nov. 16, and her state liquor license by Tuesday. Meanwhile, the menus still need to be printed, a new computer system installed, 20 staff members hired, and wine and food tasted.

A short distance away at the rotary, Sue Ellen Whitmore and her contractor are still renovating the Zeta Cafe.

Whitmore used to work up the street at Fresh, which closed last spring. She said she considered opening a new restaurant in the Fresh space, but the landlord increased the rent, which sent her looking elsewhere. That journey ended a couple hundred yards down Ocean Street. Whitmore got the keys to the old diner on Aug. 14 and was nearly overwhelmed by its condition.

“I looked at the space and I almost burst into tears saying, what did I get myself into?,” she said. “It was ceiling-to-floor boxes of expired salad dressing and paper goods I couldn’t use. It was like (the previous owner) just walked away.”

The Scarborough resident pulled it together, and she and her contractor gutted and rebuilt the interior. “We just grabbed the bull by the horns,” she said.

Whitmore said the interior is now a blend of old and new architectural elements – from the 100-year-old tiger-claw woodwork, to old church pews, to what looks like hammered bronze accents. What was once cold linoleum is now warm tones of wood, she said.

Although the diner was licensed for 20 seats, she hopes to increase the capacity to 30 seats. She also said the menu items will be less expensive than they were at Fresh, promising that $20 will buy an entree and a beer and still leave enough for a tip. Whitmore said the menu will consist of light fare, leaning heavily on Mediterranean-style dishes.

“I didn’t want $36 entrees,” she said.

The restaurant, which will be closed on Sundays and Mondays, will be open only for dinner until next spring, when it will begin serving lunch. 

“I want to appeal to everyone,” Whitmore said. “I want to create a warm, welcoming environment.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or