Like all Maine restaurants, Portland’s vegetarian eateries have been rocked by these challenging times. As stay-at-home orders expanded, some announced temporary closures while others continued to offer takeout despite substantial drops in sales. By the end of April, two vegetarian restaurants shuttered by the epidemic had reopened for takeout and others were making plans to do the same.
In late April, Gov. Mills announced a phased re-opening of the state that would let restaurants re-open for sit-down business, with restrictions, on June 1. Meanwhile, here’s a summary on the current status of the state’s vegetarian restaurants.
Nura Hummus and Falafel Bar in Monument Square reopened with limited hours on April 17 after closing March 16. Copper Branch, which also closed on March 16, reopened April 24 and is now open every day but Mondays. Both restaurants offer customers an option to pay for a meal for hospital workers when they order. Orders are taken and paid for online or over the phone and once customers arrive, the bagged food is brought to their car or placed on an outside table for pickup.
Before the pandemic closures, both restaurants were busiest at lunchtime. Cameron Gardner, who owns Nura with his brother Dylan Gardner, said reopening daily for lunch depends on the return of the people who work in the surrounding offices. “If the offices open back up, we will certainly extend our hours and days further,” he said.
In Canal Plaza across from the Nickelodeon, where Chris and Melissa Hooper own Copper Branch, Chris Hooper said they’re “working on getting prepared frozen meals in place and bulk items like a pot of chili or family-style tofu scramble for breakfast.”
After a hiatus since the stay at home orders were issued, the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck hoped to be back on the road for Mother’s Day. Owner Tony DiPhillipo said the truck will be parked outside Tony’s Donuts on Brighton Avenue each Sunday for brunch.
The Moulton Street location of Maine Squeeze Juice Cafe and the Forest Avenue location of Blake Orchard Juicery have remained open throughout the crisis, with both offering online orders and curbside pickup. “Foot traffic has decreased significantly,” said Maine Squeeze owner Alex Vandermark, “but our loyal fan base has been frequenting Maine Squeeze in the Old Port often.”
While the nearby Blake Orchard Juicery on Exchange Street closed March 16, the Forest Avenue restaurant has stayed open for curbside pickup. Blake Orchard owner Alexandra Blake Messenger said after sales dropped by more than 50 percent in the first few weeks of the stay-at-home orders, they have since “slowly been rising.”
In the Old Port, Dobra Tea on Exchange Street is closed but is selling bulk tea for pickup on Saturdays. Ellen Kanner, who owns Dobra with her husband, Ray Marcotte, said they plan to reopen to serve takeout brewed tea and perhaps food, too, by the end of the month. Dobra’s recent online tea workshop, a first, “was quite popular,” she said.
The Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro, which for a short time switched to takeout, closed on March 29. Front of house manager Nate Edwards said, “The answers to questions on re-opening are ‘when,’ not an ‘if’,” with plans underway to open for takeout by the end of the month. Edwards said the restaurant’s owners – chef Dan Sriprasert and Bob Wongsaichua, who also own Boda (which remains open for takeout) – have been giving all 40 employees a free box of produce every week.
The Sticky Sweet scoop shop is closed, but the owners continue to make their plant-based pints for wholesale customers, and recently created a stir on social media by raffling off vegan ice cream cakes. Both Soakology and Maine Juice Co. remain closed.
Most of these businesses have applied for government relief loans. As of earlier this week, Copper Branch, Blake Orchard and the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck qualified for a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan. “It was an extremely slow process,” said Messenger at Blake Orchard, “but I feel so fortunate for the approval. It is going to help us out tremendously.”
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]