Well-Known Maine Restaurant to Close its Doors

The owners of Five Fifty-Five in Portland say high food costs and an upcoming paid sick leave ordinance are part of the reasons for the closure

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A well-known Maine restaurant open for almost two decades will shut its doors in what owners say "wasn't an easy decision" and what industry representatives say could be part of a larger trend.

This week, Steve and Michelle Corry announced they would close their first restaurant, Five Fifty-Five, which has been at its Congress Street location in Portland for 17 years.

Back in 2003, the city had virtually none of the food accolades it does now, like a recent distinction by Bon Appetit Magazine as "Food City of the Year."

"A lot of people were surprised, which is putting it nicely, that we would even consider opening in this part of town," Michelle Corry said in a Wednesday. "The climate has changed a bit."

By "climate," Corry explained she means Portland's restaurant economy.

She says the city is much more difficult to operate an eatery in that it once was and other factors like food costs are making margins much tighter.

"Food costs have been going up.. extraordinarily over the past couple years," she said. "You have a paid sick leave ordinance coming, that's going to cost some money, you have rent skyrocketing, you have a hard time getting staff."

The tipping point after all those factors for her and her husband was their family.

Corry says she's been unable to avoid a "guilty" feeling because she either feels she's not paying enough attention to the restaurant by being hands-on in the kitchen or is not spending enough time with her children.

"A couple weeks ago, my son said to me when I was putting him to bed, that he wished I could only work when he was sleeping because he missed me being home," she said. "How much money is worth it to miss my kid's birthday and not be home for dinner every night?"

According to Steve Hewins, President of HospitalityMaine, an association of industry representatives, the couple's decision to close the "busy" restaurant is not unique.

In the past year, Greater Portland has seen high-profile restaurants and bar closures including Brian Boru, Silly's and Toast Bar.

"I think we're going to see this trend for some time now," Hewins said. "We're very concerned about operating restaurants successfully."

Hewins says "workforce development" are of primary concern in Maine, which he defines as "the ability to hire, retain good help with regard to service and in the back of house," which includes kitchen staff, chefs and management.

"We have to build an education and career pipeline to continue to bring people into the industry, educate them how to operate their businesses successfully," he said. "I wish there was one person… who could fix the industry and create the easy pathway for everybody but it will be a challenging industry for some time to come."

Michelle Corry is optimistic that Portland's new mayor, Kate Snyder, could be a leader and more importantly listen to the cost concerns of business owners going forward as collaborative solutions are sought.

"I was very optimistic after listening to her," Michelle Corry said.

She also says Five Fifty-Five may reopen at some point in the future.

In the meantime, some of its classic menu items will live on at sister restaurant, Petite Jacqueline.

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