Portland restaurants try to weather the storms

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PORTLAND — It’s been one storm after another this winter, with snow accumulations well above normal in the city. And while that may be great news for winter enthusiasts, it has many others hibernating.

The parking bans, snow piles, bitter cold and blistering winds that keep people inside also keeps them away from local restaurants.

“We closed one time (this winter), last Tuesday,” said Denise Compton, the owner and manager of Bonobo Wood Fire Pizza on Pine Street in the West End. “The rest of the time we stayed open. The staff mostly walked, and neighborhood people mostly came.”

She said Bonobo stayed open on Valentine’s Day, and did OK; most of their reservations were kept, but the elements did make it difficult.

“It’s hard on businesses,” she said. “That much snow and temperatures that extreme (make it difficult).”

Jazzmyne Kostelnik, a server, said while she doesn’t think the staff has been struggling too much because of the winter, she could “definitely feel it” when it came to tips. But, she credits a regular crowd with creating “a constant flow” in the restaurant.

Just a short walk away at 685 Congress St., Local 188 also closed once, during the first blizzard of the season. But server and floor manager Katharine Hall said they don’t anticipate having to do that again.

“We’ve maintained a steady business (this winter), especially on Valentine’s Day,” Hall said. She said to do this, the restaurant hosts several “fun things in the winter,” such as happy hours, half-priced wine nights, and live music on weekends – although the live music has been “a little weather dependent.”

She said weekends have been slower than usual because several storms and parking bans have occurred on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.

She said the restaurant pools tips, so servers haven’t been struggling too much.

Thomas Canceilliere, an assistant manager at Flatbread Co. on Commercial Street, said winter is always slow, which is something they prepare for. He said the restaurant closed once during the first big storm of the winter, which was the first time in five years it had closed due to weather.

“It’s definitely affected us more this year,” he said.

Canceilliere said while servers do make less from tips in the slower winter months, that is something they usually prepare for.

“It’s the flow of business,” he said. “Summer is the time for them to make their money,” adding it is harder in the winter, but the servers plan properly, often picking up second jobs or using the time to travel.

As winter slowly begins to wind down, these restaurants and many others are preparing for Maine Restaurant Week, which runs March 1-14, to get people out of their homes and into local eateries.

Compton said they are looking forward to event, with several special menu items, including a Hawaiian pizza with prosciutto and pineapple.

“People save for it and come out,” she said, adding in past years they’ve been busy “the whole time.”

“I think it will be busy in here,” Kostelnik said. “I think it will be steadier for us.”

Canceilliere said Flatbread hasn’t submitted anything formal for Maine Restaurant Week, but said there will be some familiar offerings, as well as new menu items this year. He said he sees why the event happens in March rather than earlier in the winter. 

“It definitely helps,” he said. “We don’t need that support in the summer.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Sidebar Elements

Fore Street in Portland’s Old Port is deserted at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15. A parking ban compounded the weather problems facing restaurant owners and employees.

Maine Restaurant Weeks adds theatrical ingredient

PORTLAND — Every year, Maine Restaurant Week offers a host of culinary events, and this year is no different.

However, this year, dinner can include a show.

“The Maine Dish,” a series of plays written around the topic of food, will run from Thursday, March 5, through Sunday, March 8, at the Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 517 Forest Ave.

Put on by the Snowlion Repertory Company, “The Maine Dish” includes 12 different plays that range from comedy to drama to musical, and involves 17 actors and four directors.

“It’s a real celebration of an important aspect of the Portland identity, the whole food culture,” artistic director Al D’Andrea said.

He said the concept of doing something based on food had “been percolating for a while,” and they had decided to present in late winter or spring, before ultimately deciding to coordinate with Maine Restaurant Week.

“We contacted them and asked is there a way we can work together,” D’Andrea said. “They were interested right away.”

Producing director Margit Ahlin said the plays flow together well, with settings varying from restaurants to kitchens and dining rooms, to more far off places like Africa and the moon. She said food “can mean so many things” to so many people, and there are themes showcased in the plays. Plays are grouped thematically by location, she said.

“We tried to create a journey for the audience through the plays, as close as you can get and as far out as you can get,” Ahlin said.

D’Andrea said they put no restriction on what the word “food” could mean for the playwrights.

“Whatever it sparks in your imagination is good,” he said. “It doesn’t need to conform to conventional idea of what the word might connote. It’s fascinating just to see all the playwrights’ takes, where their imaginations went based on the word.”

Tickets are $18 and are available online.

Colin Ellis

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.