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BIDDEFORD, Maine — After she spent a winter renovating, hiring staff, sourcing food and building menus, Robin Adams opened her breakfast and lunch restaurant on March 2, cooking homefries and pancakes for eager new patrons.
Maine reported its first coronavirus case on March 12. Two days later, Robin’s Table was closed and Adams let her five employees go. Now, she’s leaving it up to fate whether her vision for a homestyle vegan restaurant in Biddeford will be fully realized.
“There is no plan,” Adams said. “What’s anyone’s plan right now?”
New restaurants reliably spring up in Maine this time of year. But the virus could permanently alter the landscape. The financial services company UBS estimated that up to 20 percent of U.S. restaurants could permanently close because of the virus. Maine and most other states have issued stay-at-home orders and closed restaurants to dine-in service.
Like many other small business owners, Adams spent the last couple of weeks applying for state and federal loans. In one case, she spent four hours on the phone waiting for a loan officer — she was 480th in the queue — and was given bad news. Adams said she did not qualify for relief “because the restaurant had only been open 10 days and I was not in debt.”
“If I was in debt, I wouldn’t have opened a business,” Adams said.
Like the Italian restaurant Leeward in the city’s Old Port and South Portland’s Judy Gibson, split off by a chef at the popular Scratch Bakery in the city, Robin’s Table was set to be an exciting addition to southern Maine’s food scene.
A lifelong entrepreneur, Adams long harbored the desire to open another restaurant since she ran one in New Hampshire in the early 1990s. After her husband died from cancer decades ago, she had been splitting time between her native New England and a condo near San Diego.
She was in San Diego when an old friend told her an eatery on a busy Biddeford road was closing, opening a spot for the restaurant. Adams quickly seized the opportunity and leased the space. She rented a studio apartment in Saco — sight unseen — and flew to Maine.
There is a level of uncertainty with any new business venture. Adams seemed invigorated by what she saw in hers.
“I’m out of my mind,” she recalls thinking after she committed to the buildout of Robin’s Table last October. “I have no place to live, no family [in Maine]. Why did I do this? This is insane.”
Vegan restaurants may be more associated with bigger cities, but Adams spent the winter renovating the Elm Street eatery driven by a feeling that her idea would work. Robin’s Table doesn’t advertise as a vegan restaurant. She’s never been one to convert people; she just knew that there weren’t a lot of places to eat the way she does.
“Pancakes, homefries, sausages — it just happens to be vegan,” she said.
Before she shut down, Adams said she was shocked by the support she had by other business owners, affirming that she had found her community in “blue-collar” Biddeford. She said “these are my people” and it is the place where “I feel most comfortable.”
“I won’t say that I always come out on top,” Adams said, “but I always come out the other side.”
Watch: What does returning to normal look like?