The Portland area’s old-school restaurant scene is undergoing a shakeup, with two longtime Italian eateries closing and a third relocating to one of the pair’s location.

The building that houses Maria’s restaurant at 337 Cumberland Ave. has been sold to Youth and Family Outreach, which plans to expand its services there, and the family that owns Maria’s has purchased the building that houses Espo’s Trattoria, a longtime Italian restaurant at 1335 Congress St.

Tony Napolitano Jr., owner of Maria’s, said Saturday that Espo’s will close sometime in mid-October and he will begin “light renovations” at the Congress Street location during the first part of November. Maria’s, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in January, will reopen there sometime in December, Napolitano said.

“We’ll keep a lot of our same old classics (on the menu) and add some new ones,” he said. “We’re going to do some happy hour stuff with small plates at the bar. We’ve got a lot of great ideas for the place.”

A closed sign hangs on the door of Anjon’s Italian Restaurant on Saturday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Meanwhile, a sign on the door at Anjon’s Italian Restaurant at 521 Route 1 in Scarborough said the landmark business, which opened more than 60 years ago, has closed permanently. The DiSanto family, owners of the restaurant, could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

In March, Anjon’s co-owner John DiSanto told the Portland Press Herald that increased competition in the area had cut into the restaurant’s sales, and in 2017 it went through a difficult time when unpaid taxes threatened the restaurant’s survival and the family’s patriarch was seriously ill.

Maria’s has been on Cumberland Avenue since 1974, but the Napolitanos have been searching for a new location for months. Previously, they’ve cited the uncomfortable situation of being located next to the Preble Street Resource Center, saying they believed some of their customers were being driven away by open drug use and encounters with homeless people asking for money.

Bob Esposito, owner of Espo’s, told the Press Herald last October that the building was for sale for $1.2 million, but that he was waiting for the right buyer. Esposito said he was ready to get out of the restaurant business and that none of his children wanted to take it over. But he has an emotional attachment to the place, and said he had turned down a couple of offers because of it.

The Esposito family has owned Espo’s on outer Congress Street since 1950, when it was called Bob’s Airport Cafe and later Esposito’s. Bob Esposito, who also owns three Ford car dealerships in Maine, bought the restaurant from his father and uncle in 2004. In the years since, he’s gutted and renovated the inside, re-sided the building, repaved the parking lot and put up new signs.

Napolitano would not disclose how much he sold the Cumberland Avenue building for, and would not say what he paid for the Congress Street location except that he did not pay the full asking price.

“No, I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “I think (Esposito) was more or less looking for the right people, and my family’s known him for years. His parents were close family friends. It was just a matter of time before we started talking about something like this. He was looking to get out of the restaurant business, and we were looking for a new location.”

Maria’s has about a half-dozen full-time employees outside the family, Napolitano said, and they will all be moving to the new location.  “Everybody from the old Maria’s is coming to the new Maria’s,” Napolitano said.

The new space is smaller than the old Maria’s, so the family will no longer be providing banquet space for large groups, Napolitano said, but the restaurant will still provide catering services and make its family’s sauces, which are sold in local stores.

Napolitano said the new restaurant will have a menu of 10 to 12 small plates in addition to offering its “old favorites.” He envisions a happy hour deal of two small plates plus a glass of beer or wine for $9-10.

“It’s just a new page for Maria’s 60th year,” he said. “We’re very excited about it. It will be fun.”

Staff Writer J. Craig Anderson contributed to this report.

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