SeaFood Business

JUN 2014

SeaFood Business is the global trusted authority for seafood buyers and sellers. We are the seafood industry's leading trade magazine with more than 30 years of experience. Our coverage is based on the "business" of buying and selling seafood.

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Net Working 40 SeaFood Business June 2014 Visit us online at "I have a hard time believing I'm 44, and that I have four restaurants, more than anyone else in town. I think of them all individually, like they're my children, in a sense." Harding Lee Smith Chef-owner Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room, Grill Room, Front Room, Corner Room Portland, Maine BY JAMES WRIGHT G o ahead, try and fnd another restaurant scene as eclectic yet accessible as what you'll fnd in Portland, Maine. Ten remember that this quaint seaside city — the home of SeaFood Business — boasts only about 66,000 residents within its borders (203,000 in the urban area). Of the 250 or so restaurants in the city proper, nobody owns and operates more than Harding Lee Smith, whose "Room" realm is winning over locals and travelers alike. Smith, 44, has a simple philosophy regarding opening new restaurants, and that's to fll a hole. Te under- stated favorite Front Room was the frst traditional restaurant to open in the Munjoy Hill residential neighborhood in 2005. Grill Room (2008) is hands-down the best steakhouse in a town bereft of them, while Corner Room (2009) is the only Italian restaurant in the touristy Old Port. But his shiny new pearl, Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room right on the city's waterfront, is something Portland truly needed: A top quality, on-the-water, seafood-centric restaurant that appeals to those in high heels (Seafood Newburg, served in a toasted popover, goes for $31) and fip-fops (a half-pint of whole-bel- ly fried clams is $15). Te original Boone's, established in the 1920s, fell into disrepair after decades of neglect, but Smith and his team have injected life into the space with tasteful décor and tasty fsh dishes. This place is a drastic change from the original Boone's. [Te building] was in really bad shape. We replaced all the foorboards, all the joists; all new plumbing, all new electric. Te old sign is the only thing remaining. And this post [points to a sturdy wooden support]! What we try to do, over the course of time, is fx blighted buildings. We want to enhance neighborhoods. We want to make empty spaces into something. Same thing here, it's a piece of his- tory that we could bring back and pay homage to in my hometown. What's been the reaction from the old guard? Some people think it's a great change. I think people who ate here in the '50s and '60s might be wondering why the prices are diferent, but the cost of fsh is exponentially higher. I don't consider us necessarily high end. I think we're casu- al fne dining. A fsh shack without the paper plates. We try to do some classic food, update it a little bit, serve it re- ally carefully, cook it really simply. Our kitchen and raw bar upstairs specialize in more eclectic stuf; things like foie gras, but paired with lobster, and pork belly paired with some sort of seafood. [We're] trying to bring it into the 21st century and meet Portland's palate. Your frst year has been a huge success. If I had to do it over again, I'd open in the winter, not the middle of sum- mer. It was so busy. We intended to open in May, then it was June, which isn't full summer yet. First day, Aug. 9, we served 175 people, the second day 850. And we didn't do under 700 until the middle of October, any day of the week. It was absolutely unbelievably busy. Tis place is an animal; it's huge. How do you feel about the word "empire"? Ha ha. I don't feel like we have an em- pire. A lot of people would say I do. I haven't really given it a whole lot of thought. I have a hard time believing I'm 44, and that I have four restau- rants, more than anyone else in town. I think of them all individually, like they're my children, in a sense. I guess it is an empire; it's always been a goal of mine to have a small restaurant company. My goal is to open a couple more, maybe in the suburbs. If it was an empire, I'd be really rich! I'm fat- tered by the thought. I guess it's an empire, I'm OK with it. I just talked myself into it. Photos by Laura Lee Dobson 40_Networking.indd 40 5/14/14 2:24 PM

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