Portland restaurant Silly’s to close after 31 years as owner bows out of ‘hipster artisan’ neighborhood

Courtesy of Silly's via Facebook
Courtesy of Silly's via Facebook
Silly's restaurant in 2010. On Wednesday, owner Colleen Kelley announced that Silly's would close on September 1 after 31 years of operation.
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One of the most unique and memorable dining experiences in Portland history will soon be no more.
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PORTLAND, Maine — A unique and memorable dining experience in Portland will soon be no more.

Owner Colleen Kelley announced Wednesday that Silly’s, a family-style restaurant on Washington Avenue, will close for good after brunch Sept. 1.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Kelley said that one factor that led to the closing was that she wanted to spend more time with her father. Kelley said that her mother died earlier this year.

Silly’s was regarded as one of the old guard of great and original and truly weird Portland restaurants. To many, it was the city’s answer to the Friendly Toast in Portsmouth (at least during its old ownership) — a rowdy, noisy atmosphere that served heaping plates of food in experimental combinations without regard for picture perfect, Instagrammable presentation, and slapped with ridiculous names like Chicky Chicky Bang Bang, Tofu in a Dinghy, or Penne For Your Thoughts.

Once one of the only culinary attractions in Portland’s East Bayside, Silly’s had acquired a devoted following for its colorful ambience, abundant selection of adventurous menu items and reputation for hiring workers active in the local arts scene. Silly’s was fun and accessible and prioritized a different sort of dining experience than what people value in restaurants today. (It also reliably offered some of the most vegan-friendly options in the city).

Washington Avenue has seen a surge of new restaurants, many of them upscale, open in the neighborhood over the past several years.

In her Wednesday social media post, Kelley wrote that before she loses the business, she would “bow out gracefully of the new hipster artisan Washington Avenue that I really don’t fit into anymore and spend my time taking care of my father.” She also alluded to challenges “doing business with the City of Portland.”

Kelley’s post also appeared to jab at a progressive model used by some restaurants to pay servers by the hour, and wrote that Portland appeared to be “turning into Seattle,” an apparent reference to that city’s $15 minimum wage.

Kelley was one of a group of restaurant owners to oppose a movement to raise the minimum wage, as well as abolishing the tip credit for servers in an effort to raise wages for service industry workers. In a post dated April of 2016, she advocated for a separate wage for “students, [people with] working papers, teenagers” and training workers. She wrote that the minimum wage hike in 2016 led to her decision to close the restaurant for business on Tuesdays and cut additional jobs. 

A city spokesperson interpreted the comment to mean challenge keeping up with the other restaurants in the city as opposed to city government. The city employee said that they “wish[ed] she would stay and keep them as part of our food scene, but totally understand given her family issues.”

Peter and Orenda Hale, who co-own nearby restaurant Drifters Wife and wine shop Maine & Loire, said that Silly’s is a landmark that would be missed in the neighborhood.

“When we opened our shop five years ago, Colleen welcomed us and our new son with one of her famous chocolate cakes and a warm greeting,” said Hale. “Silly’s has a soul; something that is sadly missing from many places, regardless of their aesthetic or price point.”

Kelley acquired the restaurant from previous owners Deirdre and Stefani Nice in 2002. She opened Simply Vegan, a nine-seat cafe, in July 2018, and expanded Silly’s into a second restaurant with a bar — called Silly’s With a Twist — on Dec. 31, 2011.

Kelley also wrote that she sold the buildings but has not sold the restaurants.

Multiple inquiries to Kelley were not immediately returned.

 

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect Silly’s final date of Sept. 1, not Sept. 2 as originally posted by the restaurant.


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