Portland’s El Rayo Cantina shutters, seeks new digs

Posted May 06, 2014, at 6:14 p.m.
Last modified May 07, 2014, at 9:09 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — On May 4, just a day shy of Cinco de Mayo, Portland’s popular El Rayo Cantina closed.

“It’s no surprise to us,” said co-owner Tod Dana. “We knew when we signed the lease it was short term. The landlord’s plan is to develop the parcel.”

The Cantina, a bar counterpart to the more casual El Rayo Taqueria, opened in January 2012 on York Street. In the summertime, a sleek fire pit and Airstream trailer bar lent the spot a California vibe.

It closed after two-and-a-half years to make way for a future parking garage, said Dana. El Rayo Taqueria, which is seeking new peninsula space, will eventually meet the same fate.

“It’s allowing us more time at the taqueria,” said Dana.

Dana’s landlord, J.B. Brown and Sons, plans to demolish both buildings. The taqueria at 101 York St. will likely become a residential and retail building. The adjacent space will become an entrance to a three-story parking garage.

“Whether it happens in 2015 or 2018, it depends on the approval process and the right economic conditions,” said Vin Veroneau, president of J.B. Brown and Sons. “Clearly a restaurant in an former gas station is not the highest and best use of that property.”

The company offered Dana a chance to open a new taqueria at the same location, but he declined.

“A new modern building doesn’t feel like a good fit for us. We are actively shopping for a new home in downtown Portland. I would welcome any landlord with ideas.”

To make way for the build-out at York and High streets, El Rayo Taqueria will close by the winter of 2015, he said.

“I anticipate being here for at least a year-and-a-half,” he added.

Though Dana spoke highly of the building’s owners and does not feel squeezed, “I’m sad to leave,” he said, “although the development will be nice.”

The Airstream that dispensed drinks and apps in the summer may be converted into a mobile food trailer, Dana said.

Meanwhile, the restaurateur is focusing southward on a new Scarborough establishment.

On Route 1, in an area starved for chef-driven dining, the company is incorporating both concepts under one roof. A 4,500-square-foot restaurant and bar will seat 100. Additional seating will be available at a seasonal outdoor patio.

“The stars really lined up for us with this project,” said Dana. “We were looking for a location in Scarborough, and a friend of a friend told us about it. We are taking an old Cumberland Farms and repurposing it to put our spin on it.”

The Scarborough El Rayo will have a takeout area and a shop selling salsa and tortillas. It opens in late June.

“We are a growing company with a great team,” said Dana. “The fact that we are closing the Cantina and moving the taqueria in Portland, we don’t think of that as a big blow. It’s an opportunity.”

 

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