PORTLAND — Plans have changed and the 25-year tradition of the Pepperclub at 78 Middle St. will continue, although co-owner Melissa Sawyer is now looking for a smaller space to occupy this fall.
‘We are here for summer, and we really want to stay in Portland because this is where our home is,” Sawyer said Monday.
In early spring, it appeared the restaurant would be gone by this month. Co-owner Mary Paine prepared to move the business to Kennebunk, to a smaller space that also offered off-street parking and a spot to plant a garden.
But Sawyer, who was a restaurant employee for eight years before buying into the ownership, said the customer response to the proposed move led to reconsideration.
“The outpouring of love and support came really strong,” she said. “It bowled us over.”
With the help of real estate brokers and input from customers, Sawyer is now looking for a new home for the restaurant after its lease expires in September.
“We are not looking to move out of the greater Portland area,” she said.
Sawyer said the Good Egg Cafe, which reopened about seven years ago as the Pepperclub’s breakfast arm, will also continue to operate.
“The Good Egg is definitely something we are keeping going,” she said.
The Good Egg, originally located on Congress Street near Longfellow Square, was a family restaurant where Paine met her husband, Thomas Paine.
In the tight circle that was the city restaurant scene, the Paines also worked at the Pepperclub for restaurant founders Eddie Fitzpatrick and Jap Halder. When Halder retired, Mary Paine became a co-owner with Fitzpatrick.
“We were hip, we were kind of funky, and we filled a niche,” Paine recalled in April.
Fitzpatrick began stepping away from daily operations about 18 months ago, but remained fiercely proud of the Pepperclub’s reputation for unique food and dedicated customer service.
“We’ve never had anybody come who couldn’t get exactly what they wanted,” Fitzpatrick said in April.
He has since sold his share of the business to Sawyer, she said, but his influence remains in her vision for the restaurant.
She said she plans to scale back the restaurant, while keeping the faith in the meals that have attracted customers since 1989: vegetarian and vegan dishes, plus some seafood, poultry and meat offerings.
“The Pepperclub has 25 years in Portland,” Sawyer said. “The integrity is something I love.”
The Pepperclub will remain open through the summer at 78 Middle St., but will relocate to an undetermined, smaller location in the Portland area after the lease expires in September.