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October 26, 2020

Munjoy Hill restaurant space sells for $410K

Courtesy / Maine Realty Advisors
The buyers of 90 Congress St. in Portland, which formerly housed a restaurant called Lolita, expect to open soon with a new Asian-fusion takeout called Jing Yan.

An 875-square-foot retail condo in Portland is viewed by its new owners as the right size for a start-up Asian-fusion take-out restaurant, while also offering inside seating options in the future.

Britt Langford and Leo Zhang bought 90 Congress St. from R&J Partners LLC for $410,000. 

John Golden of Maine Realty Advisors and Brice O'Connor of the Boulos Co. facilitated the transaction, which closed Sept. 29.

The space was previously occupied by the restaurant Lolita Vinoteca + Asador. It was marketed as having a stylish interior in a location with plenty of foot traffic. It’s one of two units in a condo at the top of Munjoy Hill. The other unit is occupied by Rosemont Market and Bakery.

Lolita closed in September 2019. According to an Instagram post by co-owners Stella and Guy Hernandez, the couple developed Lolita in 2012 with a third business partner, Neil Reiter. The interior was renovated to feature reclaimed wood, a zinc bar and a wood grill and wine storage. The couple wrote that they decided to close to make more time for themselves and family.

Dozens of inquiries

John Golden, who represented the seller, said the space was initially on the market as a leasing opportunity. The listing was subsequently switched to offering the option to buy or lease.  

Courtesy / Maine Realty Advisors
The turnkey space included a zinc bar and big windows in a location that has plenty of foot traffic.

The listing received inquiries from as far as Boston, Rhode Island, New York. 

“It was a specialized sale because of the size of the restaurant,” he said. “The pandemic changed things as well” because of restrictions on capacity seating. 

But it lent itself well to takeout, which the buyers had planned on anyway.

Langford and Zhang are a married couple who plan to call the restaurant Jing Yan, for the swallow. Zhang chose the name because the bird is a traditional depiction in kites that are popular to fly as a pastime in Beijing, Langford explained. That way, she continued, when Chinese customers go to the restaurant, they’ll know it was opened by someone from China.

The target opening date is Nov. 15. The Asian-fusion menu will reflect Chinese and American influences.

“My husband will consult with the chef on the menu,” Langford said. “We want to focus on northern Chinese food, but the chef is American, so he’ll probably tweak some of the more traditional dishes to an American palate.”

Northern Chinese dishes tend to focus on lots of broth noodles and heavier savory flavors, compared with sweeter flavors in the south, she explained.

From Maine to China

Zhang was born and raised in Beijing. Langford is from Falmouth. After graduating from college, where she was an international affairs major, she signed onto a program through the Council on International Educational Exchange in Portland and moved to southern China, about an hour from Shanghai, where she taught English. A year later, she moved to Beijing to study Chinese, then to work for an international headhunting firm. 

In 2013, she opened a bakery.

“I saw a market for American baked goods, both among expats Americans and Chinese,” she said.

Shortly thereafter, she met Zhang, who was a bartender at a hotel in Beijing. Two years later, they opened a cocktail bar together.

“He has a lot of experience bartending,” Langford said. “He wanted to open a cocktail bar, so we decided to do it together.”

From China to Maine

About three years ago, they decided to return to Falmouth to be near Langford’s family. “When we moved back here, we had the intention to open a restaurant,” she said. “We were just trying to understand the market and the American taste for Chinese food, so that took some time.”

In the meantime, Langford went to work as assistant food and beverage director at Portland Harbor Hotel. There, she met a line cook, Christopher Petrillo. Langford went on to manage two restaurants — Sea Salt in Saco and Pepper’s Landing in Brunswick — but she kept in touch with Petrillo, with the idea of bringing him into the restaurant. Two year ago, Zhang and Langford took Petrillo to Beijing so he could try the food.

“This was a long planning process,” Langford added.

When the health crisis hit, the Langford and Zhang saw an opportunity to implement their menu ideas for a takeout restaurant in Portland.

“Takeout is in much higher demand than it was before, so I wanted to find a space where we could focus on takeout,” she said.

The two plan to expand to dine-in when the time is right, she added.

Getting the operation up and running mostly just involves some cosmetic work, including swapping in new light fixtures and paint; plus buying a new fryer and hood system. The couple is doing the painting themselves but hired sub-contractors for the rest of the work. They financed the purchase and installations through a loan with Gorham Savings Bank.

“There are not many people wanting to open a restaurant right now,” she said. “It’s one of the riskiest times to do it. But we’re young and we saw an opportunity and we just fell in love with the space.”


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