POWNAL — The show must go on for two Maine business owners opening a magic-themed dinner theater restaurant – they just don’t know where yet.

Joseph Richards and Marcus Verrill are scrambling to find a new location for The Perfect Spell, a Harry Potter meets Hocus Pocus meets Practical Magic-themed musical restaurant, after Pownal town officials denied a change-of-use permit for their intended location at 83 Fickett Road, just days before they were scheduled to open.

Formerly the North Pownal Store, Richards described the location as “quaint and cute” and said it was perfect for what they wanted to do. There were some parking issues, but Verrill and Richards did not foresee problems with going from “a store selling beer, wine and food” to a “restaurant selling beer, wine and food,” with similar levels of seating. The board of appeals apparently disagreed and denied the permit, citing a non-conforming use.

“The main reason was that the board’s charge is whether or not the change of use would be better than or equal to the use” it was before, said Deputy Clerk Molly White. “They felt it wouldn’t work in that location.”

“We never thought we’d have this problem,” Verrill said.

Richards said people at the meeting were supportive of what they were trying to do, but did not want to have it next door.

Verrill and Richards went to the board Sept. 10, with plans to open Friday, Sept. 13.

The one-year lease was signed and paid for, but with the denial, Verrill and Richards had no choice but to push back their opening and issue refunds to more than 200 ticket holders who had reserved seats in the opening three weeks. They rescheduled reservations to future dates for free for those who were interested.

Richards estimates that they have lost between $4,000 and $5,000 in refunds alone, not to mention money from food and drinks that would be coming in if they were already open.

“It does hurt us every week that we’re not open,” Verrill said.

“We’re losing tons,” Richards added, “but we can pick back up.”

Now, the two are hunting for another location, and have bids on multiple locations in Brunswick, Portland, South Portland and Lewiston. They expect to hear back by Friday and intend to open by Oct. 17, or Oct. 24 at the latest.

When The Perfect Spell does open, “we want it to feel like a whole other magical world when you walk through the doors,” Verrill said.

A master wizard will lead guests to their tables and through a magical evening, with singing and dancing witches and wizards. The evening combines Richards’ love of Harry Potter, Verrill’s love of Hocus Pocus and both their loves of Practical Magic, they said, but remained relatively tight-lipped about the details so guests stay surprised.

“We want to pack a powerful punch,” Verrill said. “We have to go all out.”

Verrill and Richards are no strangers to the themed (and unusual) restaurant scene.

The pair worked together at the Styxx nightclub in Portland for years, before leaving to open Fresco Mexican Grill in Sanford and Let’s Get Bacon, a seasonal restaurant in Ogunquit.

They closed the two restaurants to open Studio 55, a cabaret “mixology show lounge”in late 2014, but had to close when the landlord said he was selling the building, Verrill said.

They then set their sights on Auburn, and in 2017 opened two new spots: House of Bacon and Lava.

House of Bacon was exactly what it sounds like, serving 13 kinds of bacon and a 20-piece BLT, according to a 2018 article by the Sun Journal.

Lava, a fondue-and-cabaret-themed restaurant, featured several inventive flavors of fondue (pizza with parmesan cheese, garlic and vodka sauce or cake batter with vanilla yogurt, marshmallow and rainbow sprinkles, according to The Sun Journal) and featuring burlesque dancers. They also kept things busy at their restaurants with paint nights, princess parties and comedy nights.

Despite the restaurants’ popularity and relatively short run, Verrill and Richards announced House of Bacon and Lava would close in August in order to focus on opening The Perfect Spell in Pownal.

Like the other establishments, The Perfect Spell would feature an eclectic menu of smoking sangrias, truffle macaroni and cheese with torched Cheeto dusting, and blueberry compote chicken and waffles among other options.

Richards and Verrill plan to have The Perfect Spell vanish after a year, with the restaurant set to close Oct. 31, 2020. Then, they hope to open another one-year pop-up, maybe with a Willy Wonka-based theme.

“We try to do something fresh,” Richards said. “Restaurants can sometimes die down a little after a while.”

“It’s how we can stand out,” Verrill added.

The Perfect Spell’s Facebook page has over 3,800 likes and the restaurant is over 70% full for the rest of the year, despite not having a location.

The Perfect Spell hopes to be open Thursday through Sunday nights (Thursdays were added partly to accommodate the people who reserved spots for September), with about 30 spots available per night. Anyone interested in tickets should visit their eventbrite page. They will announce their new location and opening date on Facebook.

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