The Pepperclub/Good Egg Cafe on Middle Street has lost its lease and will be moving to a new location by September.
Mary Ledue Paine, a fixture at the Pepperclub for the last 25 years, and at the original Good Egg before that, says increased competition, rising food costs and high overhead – the restaurant can seat 100 people – have all led to this sad but inevitable conclusion.
“We have struggled the last few years, with every single restaurant that opens up, and the overhead going up,” Paine said. “We’ve struggled, but I’m proud of the struggle. I’m proud that we’ve been here 25 years. We’ve made it when other places probably would have said ‘Just forget it.’ ”
Paine’s family started The Good Egg, a breakfast cafe on Congress St., on a shoestring budget of $3,000 back in the 1980s. When the cafe burned down in 1992, Paine vowed to re-open it inside the Pepperclub, which has been on Middle Street since 1989, next door to Hugo’s and now the Eventide Oyster Co.
The Good Egg re-appeared inside Pepperclub in 2006. In recent years, Paine has also contracted with a business called Modern Vegan, a vegan catering and delivery service that prepares its food inside Pepperclub.
Paine is known for contributing her time, energy and food to local charitable events. She’s been a part of the annual Chocolate Lovers’ Fling, a benefit for Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, for example, for 26 years.
Other Portland restaurateurs have apparently rallied around Paine in the past month or so to support her and give her advice.
Right now she’s considering a move to Kennebunk, to a space where the rent is much less and she could have her own garden.
“I’m looking at a space now that is more than welcoming, really wants to work with me, really wants me there and has more amenities,” she said. “It’s a great spot, and I really think I could do well there, but it takes me away from Portland, and I love Portland.”
The thought of losing some longtime customers by moving farther south is “heartbreaking,” Paine said, but she made it clear she does not want anyone feeling sorry for her.
“I’m not angry and I’m not a victim of it all, but I should have been smarter earlier,” she said. “One hundred seats is a lot. Even 65 seats is a lot, unless you have $50 ticket prices per person. We have a ticket price of about $25 per person. I’ve always been really happy with that, but it isn’t enough to keep it going.”