Facebook

BRUNSWICK — As some downtown eateries move tables around and set up chairs to open patios and sidewalk seating for the summer, one local restaurant is closing its doors for good. 

Pedro O’Hara’s, a longtime downtown fixture specializing in Mexican, Irish and American fare, announced on Facebook Friday that after 17 years, the business will be closing permanently due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We survived the recession, the closing of the (Brunswick Naval Air Station), when we had four deep at Friday happy hour, the flood of 2013. The last couple of years have been tough. Many choices in a small town,” owner Troy Kavanaugh wrote. “The pie kept getting smaller.” 

Businesses were limited to curbside-only service in March, and Pedro O’Hara’s not only lost St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, its two busiest days of the year, but also Bowdoin senior nights and Bowdoin College graduation.

Kavanaugh hoped to open Monday for in-house seating, but the regulations for Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties changed last minute, prohibiting indoor dining and restricting restaurants to outdoor-only. He was forced to pivot.

Even without the change in regulations, it would have been difficult to keep going. 

“The new normal just won’t work for that business plan downstairs,” Kavanaugh said Monday. It’s a small space without a banquet room or a deck; the ceilings are low, there are no windows and the ventilation leaves something to be desired. People are still feeling very cautious, he said, and Pedro O’Hara’s current location is not going to be the one people want to visit first.

“There’s no way around being at half capacity only once in a while,” he said. “It just couldn’t be sustained. … It doesn’t make sense to stay open and continue losing money.” 

Mexican food does not travel well, Kavanaugh added, and being in a basement with little street exposure, takeout was not going to be a viable option.  

“It all added up to one big problem,” he said. 

While businesses in Cumberland County can now open for outdoor seating under Gov. Janet Mills’ reopening plan, there is no deck or parking to set up furniture on Pedro O’Hara’s property. The sidewalk space would only hold one table. 

“The current county/state regulations make it impossible to continue,” he wrote. “From our hearts to yours, thank you for all the patronage over the years. Some incredible employees have graced this old basement. We enjoyed serving you.” 

Pedro’s Lewiston location, which has both a deck and a parking lot, remains open. 

Kavanaugh also runs McAvoy’s On the Green, the restaurant for the Brunswick Golf Club. The deck there is open, but with cooler weather, Monday was off to a slow start, he said. 

Kavanaugh said there may be some hope for Pedro O’Hara’s to continue elsewhere in town. Some people have approached him with ideas about a few different locations that are not only not in a basement, but also have room for outdoor seating, he said, but there are not currently any plans underway. 

Pedro O’Hara’s joins Benchwarmers in Brunswick and the Starlight Cafe in Bath, which both announced last month they were closing because of the pandemic. Two retail shops in Brunswick, Maine Street Sweets and Timeless Cottage, are also closing their doors either due to or hurried along by the virus. 

Others, though, are hopeful that some of the worst may be behind them. 

Neighboring Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern opened on Monday for the first time since March 16

According to TJ Siatras, who owns the restaurant with his wife, instead of focusing on takeout, the pair used the time for some heavy maintenance, cleaning and improvement projects. 

Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern is one of a handful of downtown restaurants that opened patio seating on Monday. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

The patio reopened Monday, and later this week they plan to open the upstairs deck. They eliminated what was previously the smoking section underneath the upstairs deck and revamped the spaced for more outdoor seats, Siatras said, meaning that even to keep the recommended six feet of distance between the tables to prevent the spread of the virus, Joshua’s will be operating with more outdoor seating than last year. 

“In doing so, we hope to accommodate what we think is a pent up demand,” he said. Servers will wear masks at the tables and they are encouraging reservations to help keep people from congregating on the sidewalk. The menu will be somewhat limited at first to help keep things running smoothly, but all the favorites will still be offered. 

Siatras hopes that soon the restrictions will loosen further and he can open for indoor dining, especially on cooler or rainy nights. The restaurant is spacious and even with 50 people, they would still be able to accommodate people spaced six feet apart, he said 

The restaurant will celebrate its 31st anniversary next week, and Siatras is thankful that despite the pandemic, they are still in business. 

“We think this is a good week to celebrate that,” he said, adding, “We don’t feel like people have forgotten us. … Tourism is going to be a little more challenging this year, and we’ve always supported the local community, so we hope they’ll support us.” 

Debora King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association said most businesses downtown will probably reopen slowly. 

Bohemian Coffee House, Scarlet Begonias and Portland Pie Company all opened for outdoor dining Monday and the Great Impasta will open its patio on Tuesday. 

“I know people are excited about the opportunity,” she said. 

King also noted that while several businesses have announced closures, there has also been a flurry of interest in some of the vacant or soon-to-be-vacant spaces. She could not confirm any additional details. 

“Nobody wants to see a business closed,” she said, “but if the decision has been made, it’s nice to see there’s enough confidence (in the downtown) that people are continuing to invest in our community during this crazy time.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.