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February 16, 2018

Second BBQ joint leverages neighborhood vibe in Portland's Deering Center

Courtesy / Doug Merriam
Courtesy / Doug Merriam
From left, Adam Powers and Jeremy Rush opened Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill in South Portland as a family-friendly restaurant catering to the local community. They plan to open a second barbecue restaurant in Portland's Deering Center neighborhood this spring.

The purchase of a long-time family-owned pizzeria at 476 Stevens Ave. in Portland is expected to leverage the community's neighborly feel when the new owners open a barbecue restaurant there.

Rock Properties LLC sold the property to Adam Powers and Jeremy Rush for $1.15 million, in a deal that closed Dec. 15, 2017. Cheri Bonawitz, then of Cardente Real Estate, represented the seller and Mike Anderson of Malone Commercial Brokers represented the buyer. The property consists of a 4,091-square-foot restaurant building, constructed in 1973, on 0.16 acre.

Siano's Brick Oven Pizza operated at the location in Deering Center for nearly 30 years and went on the market in November 2016. The turn-key property is a free-standing brick building that features a full bar, lounge and two dining rooms and approved seating for 80-plus indoors and 10 to 15 on the patio. It also has brick ovens, a large walk-in cooler and on-site parking.

The successful restaurant took a while to sell, said Bonawitz, because owner Joseph Pompeo was particular about whom he would sell to.

"He wanted a certain type of good person who would fit into the neighborhood," she said.

Bonawitz showed the property numerous times, and received numerous calls from interested prospects even after the property went under contract, she said. The price reflected high market values in Portland.

"People want certain locations and they're willing to pay for them," she said.

Community feel

Courtesy / Cardente Real Estate
Courtesy / Cardente Real Estate
The former Siano's Pizza at 476 Stevens Ave. in Portland will soon open as Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill.

The neighborliness of Deering Center is what made this location particularly attractive to buyers Powers and Rush. The two own Elsmere BBQ & Wood Grill in a similar neighborly community at 448 Cottage Road in South Portland. With a third partner in the business, Nat Towl of NMT Woodworking, they'll open a second Elsmere, likely in May, at the Portland location.

Reached by phone before Elsmere's evening rush started up, Powers said the partners opened their first location in August 2013, naming it after the original name of the building they're in, Elsmere Garage, on the corner of Cottage Road and Elsmere Avenue in South Portland.

"We have a bit of a different business model than a lot of the restaurants around here, because we're not tourist-oriented," said Powers. "We're community-oriented and we're nestled into the Willard Beach neighborhood."

The restaurant distinguishes itself by offering wood-fired grill and smoker meats and seafood, as well as vegetarian and vegan selections.

"No gas ever touches our food," he said.

The family-friendly restaurant also boasts several sit-down video game consoles featuring classics like Pac-Man. Clientele mainly consists of folks in the neighborhood, perhaps commuting home from jobs in Portland.

"Once people come across the [Casco Bay] bridge at night, they don't want to go back into Portland to go to a restaurant and fight for parking," said Powers.

Barbecue culture

Powers and Rush are long-time friends and culinary collaborators. According to his website bio, Powers' cooking style was influenced by 10 years he spent as a child in Southeast Asia, where he enjoyed Bangkok's street food culture. He translated that cultural feel into America's version of folk cuisine, barbecue, even fabricating a Texas-style BBQ cooker out of a 1950s metal refrigerator.

Working in the food industry since he was 16, he's also a founding member of Twisted Roots, which has released several national recordings and toured extensively along the East Coast, opening for big acts like Ozzy Osbourne.

Rush grew up in Freeport but discovered an interest as a child in roadside barbecue restaurants during annual family-visits to Kansas. Barbecue is a Rush family tradition, with his father smoking meats for holidays and family gatherings.

The two worked with each other on and off for many years and had a small barbecue catering company at one point. Then they took the leap and opened Elsmere, which has since been recognized by Zagat and regional publications like Downeast. Twice a week, they offer "nonprofit nights" that donate a percentage of food sales to a selected nonprofit and allows the organization to use its premises for meetings or events for free.

The new restaurant will also be called Elsmere, and will be structured in the same way.

"What attracted us is that the property is the same model as this place, where you're nestled into a neighborhood," said Powers. "It's not tourist-reliant. To use a cliché, if someone goes there, everyone will know your name."

Towl, who renovated the South Portland Elsmere location, is working on renovations for the new location.

"We'll have an open chef's bar, where you can see the wood grill," said Powers. "It's very comfortable — casual but elegant."

The partners had been considering the idea of opening a second location for a couple of years.

"But it had to be right place," he said. "We weren't looking to expand just to expand. We looked in all the surrounding towns — Yarmouth, Freeport, Brunswick, Gorham, Scarborough. Where we are, in Deering Center, used to be its own little village, so there's a lot of walk-in traffic there."

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