When Jeff Solari stepped inside 266 Main St. in downtown Old Town last November, he told the building’s owner he thought it would have to be torn down.
Almost a year later, Solari is opening up a second location of his Brewer restaurant Kosta’s in the building, he said. He expects the restaurant to open in mid to late November.
The opening will mark a homecoming for Kosta’s, which was located in the same spot before Yamas Bar and Grill opened there in 2010. It also marks another development in Old Town as the downtown area gradually recovers from a fire two years ago that ripped through the same block.
The building, which is more than 100 years old, was home to Yamas — a Greek and seafood restaurant that is now located in Orono — at the time of the fire in September 2019.
It sustained heavy smoke and water damage as a result of that blaze. At one point, you could see water pouring in whenever it rained from a hole in the ceiling down to the first floor, Solari said.
“Honestly, when we met last November, I was sure the building had to be torn down,” he said. “But it’s one of these old buildings where they used to build a lot better than they build today, and so the structure was really solid.”
In the two years since the fire, the city has focused heavily on restoring vitality to the downtown. In 2020, Alex Gray opened the doors to his restaurant and nightlife venue Kanu, which sits diagonally across from the new Kosta’s location.
Additionally, a third new restaurant is slated to open sometime in 2022 at another vacant downtown space, in the former location of the Boomhouse restaurant, according to Old Town’s economic development director, E.J. Roach.
“I think through the winter and into spring, all of a sudden, residents up in this area won’t necessarily need to drive as far away to come to get a nice dinner or come have a drink, watch the game or hang out with friends,” Solari said. “I think downtown is going to feel pretty vibrant.”
The inside of the new Kosta’s location now has a fresh coat of paint, new flooring and a layer of sawdust from continued work. But the third floor still holds remnants of the downtown fire. On the third floor, which will be used for storage, the smell of smoke lingers, and some of the exposed roofing shows signs of fire damage, Solari said.
The building is where Kosta’s first opened more than 15 years ago before relocating to Wilson Street in Brewer. Solari has owned Kosta’s for approximately two years.
The Old Town location will boast two floors and an outdoor patio that is already in place. There will also be a bar outside and on each floor, he said.
The inside has a near-panoramic view of Main and Water streets, and the second floor has a clear view of the Penobscot River.
The plan is to capitalize on the success of the Brewer location, although the menu will be slightly smaller in Old Town due to a smaller kitchen and less seating, Solari said. The Brewer location features Greek fare as well as pasta, pizza and a variety of other dishes.
“It did well here before, and it’s the perfect fit for Old Town. It’s casual, it’s relaxed, well priced, homemade food and affordable beer and drinks,” he said.
Solari said he hopes the restaurant sits well with the community, and he anticipates it being an integral part of the city.
“We’re just a small local business and I’m from Maine, grew up in this area,” he said. “We’re going to do what a local business should do — help the community and vice versa. I mean, without the community we won’t be here.”