Portland restaurants “victims of our own success”

Experts and insiders say the recent restaurant closures in Portland are likely due to “a confluence of different currents.”

PORTLAND, Maine – Following the closure of two Portland restaurants and a popular bar, industry insiders say various factors, including their own success, likely played a role.

Earlier this month, Lolita on Munjoy Hill announced it was shutting down at the end of the month.

Longtime Washington Avenue restaurant Silly’s announced this week that it will also close on September 1. On Thursday night, Brian Boru on Center Street announced that it would be his last weekend in business.

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David Turin, owner of David’s Restaurant, David’s Opus Ten and David’s 388, said on Friday that various factors likely contributed to the decisions.

Among them, he said, the rising cost of rents in Portland, the cost of labor and the general difficulty of running a restaurant.

For some, the competitive pressure in an increasingly popular market is just not worth it.

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There are only a few ways to make it work – “attract more business or charge higher prices,” he said. “It’s really, really trying. People are working harder and, at the cellular level, they’re just exhausted.”

Erik Urbanek of commercial real estate firm SVN The Urbanek Group, said it was possible that the growing national focus on Portland as an upscale foodie destination could be a factor, but he argued that Portland has always been a “city rich in restaurants” and that the game has just accelerated.

“Of course, retail and restaurant space is in much higher demand right now, and obviously when that happens, landlords can charge higher rents,” Urbanek said. “And maybe some older, established restaurants that don’t keep up with current market trends and customer demands – you could argue they’re out of the market … especially someone who moved in there. was 20 years old when we didn’t have the visitor population that we have now, with about 90 cruise ships a year. “

But he said other factors are also contributing. He pointed to the Bird Dog Cafe in Cape Elizabeth, which temporarily closed earlier this year because the owners couldn’t attract staff.

“It’s a bit of a Catch 22,” he said.

Urbanek agreed with Turin that the caliber of Portland restaurants has increased, and with it, the expectations of diners. And not all restaurateurs are ready to change.

But Urbanek said another argument to be made is that with increased traffic, “you should be able to scale your business to take advantage of traffic. Some people just don’t want to chase after reviews. Yelp. “

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Sandy A. Greer