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A pair of Portsmouth, N.H., restaurateurs plan to open the first Maine location for their all-day-brunch eatery.
Co-owners Eric Goodwin and Scott Pulver, owners of an independent restaurant group called the Friendly Toast, bought a street-level condominium unit at 211 Fore St. in Portland from Bass Ackwards Realty LLC for an undisclosed price.
The 7,000-square-foot restaurant facility, in the Old Port, was home until recently to Sebago Brewing Co., which told Mainebiz earlier this year that it would close its downtown restaurant and brewpub to focus on other lines of business, including upgrades to its Gorham brewpub.
The condominium listing was marketed at an asking price of $2.89 million. Roger Daigle and Stan Rintz of Daigle Commercial Group Inc., in Portland, and Dave Garvey of KW Coastal and Lakes & Mountains Realty, in Portsmouth, N.H., brokered the deal.
The goal is to open the Portland location this summer, Pulver told Mainebiz.
The Friendly Toast has eight locations — two in New Hampshire, five in Massachusetts and one in Vermont.
Pulver said he always keeps his eye our for potential new locations.
“We’ve been looking at Portland real estate for a long time,” he said.
The condo at 211 Fore St. stood out as a ready-to-go restaurant, he said.
The purchase price was south of $3 million, he said. Investment for fit-up, including décor specific to the restaurant and equipment, is expected to be between $700,000 and $800,000.
The new location was financed through Primary Bank in New Hampshire.
The bones of the structure are in great shape, said Goodwin. There will be a total makeover in terms of the design of the restaurant.
“When you walk into a Friendly Toast, you know you’re in a Friendly Toast,” he said. “We’re famous for our green walls and our kitschy, funky décor. We have someone who finds artwork for us. It’s very common to be at a Friendly Toast and see people taking pictures of the memorabilia and some of the decorations we have. We invest a lot of time sourcing that.”
The location will have 50 to 60 employees.
The menu uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. The restaurant offers gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan options as well as new food and drink specials each week that are exclusive to each location. The model features seasonal ingredients, flavors and themes.
Goodwin stressed that he thought of the Friendly Toast as an independently owned and operated model separate from the model of large national chains and franchises. As an independent restaurant group, he said, it provides “autonomy and creative freedom with its management style, menu creativity, team culture building and so on.”
Goodwin was brought up in New Hampshire, in the restaurant business. His father was a restaurant owner.
“I was a restaurant brat, so to speak,” he said.
He went on to work for an independent restaurant group, then a corporate restaurant group. In 1999, he left the corporate position and started Goodwin Recruiting, which is today a full-service, national management recruiting firm that is now in Manchester, N.H., but will move this fall to Exeter, N.H., said Goodwin.
In 2014, Goodwin said, he was looking to create a restaurant group in the “brunch all day” space.
“I didn’t think there was a cool, culinary funky all-day brunch spot out there,” he said. “You have the old-school Friendly’s and IHOPs of the world, and some one-off mom-and-pop places. I thought there was an opportunity for something that was different and unique.”
A brunch eatery, he said, would be a great way to attract employees looking to have balance in their lives. That was particularly important to him as a parent.
“My story is around having balance in life — being a great parent while being in a challenging industry, which is hospitality,” he said. “Typically in the restaurant world, it’s a notoriously a difficult paradigm, with nights and weekends and holidays and 50-, 60-, 70-hour workweeks.”
A day restaurant, he said, would be a place that could attract and retain top managerial talent.
“We only have a 45-hour work week,” along with a benefits program that includes a 401(k), he said.
“I thought that, combined with what I saw as a lack of cool, brunch-all-day restaurants scene out there, the idea of creating an environment where our managers could do other things in life makes for a healthier organization,” he said.
A commercial real estate broker connected Goodwin with Pulver, who had come across two restaurants called the Friendly Toast, in Portsmouth, N.H., and in Cambridge, Mass.
The first two Toasts had a “cool indie vibe” and “kitschy uniqueness” but needed some polish and organization, said Goodwin.
“I liked the challenge. So Scott and I went for it.”
The first year was challenging on a couple of fronts.
Internally, Goodwin promoted a set of standards and systems in order to achieve consistent performance.
“It took a long time to get our team all rowing in the same direction,” he said.
Renovations were also needed, including a new bar, kitchen and booths at the Portsmouth location.
Goodwin said he found another tricky aspect was that existing customers were worried about change.
“They were worried that the Friendly Toast would lose its unique personality,” he said. “But ultimately we got our groove on and were able to start developing a culture and spirit that ultimately drives who we are today.”
Goodwin said he and Pulver aimed to grow the group slow but steadily. The third location was in Boston’s Back Bay, followed by other openings spaced out one by one.
Along with Portland, the plan is to open another spot in Dedham, Mass. By the end of this year, the partners expect to have 11 or 12 locations.
“I consider that careful and thoughtful growth,” said Goodwin. “It’s all based on the quality of our organization and having a great team.”
Portland was in the partners’ sights from the beginning.
“It’s a very vibrant city, lots going on, great restaurant scene, great waterfront scene,” he said. “It’s a place we always wanted to be. We just didn’t find the right location.”
They were eyeing several locations a couple of years ago, but the pandemic slowed progress.
“We have a lot of guests from Maine and from Portland who visit Portsmouth and our other restaurants, so we’re constantly getting feedback — ‘You’ve got to be in Portland!’” Goodwin said. “It’s just natural for us to be there.”