From left, Atsuko Fujimoto, owner of Norimoto Bakery; Birch Shambaugh, owner of Woodford Food & Beverage; and Woodford executive chef Courtney Loreg. When Fujimoto noticed that Loreg was desperately short-handed in the kitchen one evening, she jumped in to help. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On a weekend summer evening a year ago, or possibly two, Atsuko Fujimoto was making her usual afternoon delivery of burger buns to Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland when she noticed something odd.

Instead of the usual three line cooks prepping with Executive Chef Courtney Loreg for the busy summer Saturday evening ahead, Loreg had just a single, and somewhat unexpected, kitchen assistant: restaurant owner Birch Shambaugh.

Fujimoto, a restaurant industry veteran who was well aware of the dire industrywide staffing shortages at the time, grasped the situation in an instant. She turned to Loreg, an old friend and former colleague at Fore Street. “I said, ‘Do you have anybody else?’ And they didn’t,” recalled Fujimoto, baker/owner at the nearby Norimoto Bakery. “So I stuck around.”

Shambaugh picked up the story, though his recollection was slightly different: “Atsuko saw the way it was going to go with our service and the look of resignation and probably some amount of fear on our faces, and she amazingly, gamely, said she would be back to help in time for service. And boy did she!”

Fujimoto, who’d already put in her own eight-hour day at Norimoto, spent that evening, and a second one later that week, in the kitchen at Woodford Food & Beverage, capably plating salads and shucking piles of oysters – a literal helping hand.

“She saved our bacon!” Shambaugh said.



In a tough, fast-paced business where something often, seemingly inevitably, goes wrong, Maine restaurateurs, bakers and brewers in Portland and beyond have countless tales of coming to each other’s aid, or being the recipient of help. In the month leading up to Thanksgiving, we asked them to share with us instances of giving and getting.

Assistance, they said, comes in forms both tangible and intangible. There are equipment loans of paella pans, cake stands and pizza peels. There are borrowed ingredients – ripe avocados, a dozen oranges, “weird chemicals” for curing meat.

“It’s just like asking your neighbor for a cup of sugar,” said Kate Hamm, owner and baker at Fish & Whistle in Biddeford. “It’s just the scale is a lot bigger.” She has borrowed 50-pound bags of sugar from fellow bakers upon suddenly realizing she was running low.

Not infrequently, parts of an actual restaurant kitchen are freely given: use of ovens or precious refrigerator space.

Other times, it’s advice or a show of support: An established brewery helps newcomers figure out how to get the licenses they need to operate. A longtime restaurant owner suggests a reliable purveyor or accountant to a new eatery. A celebrated local chef shows up regularly for a meal at a new spot, demonstrating by his very presence that the place is worth checking out. Or, as happened on an unprecedented recent evening, two restaurateurs – aghast and in shock and each trying to figure out whether to open their doors when a mass shooter was believed to be at large – consult with each other about what to do.


“No one is an island,” said Rob Evans, co-owner of Duckfat and Duckfat Frites Shack and a 25-year veteran of Portland’s restaurant scene. “Not to go back to COVID, but it proved we all really need each other, and how important that is and how comforting it is, too, that everybody is there for each other.”


It’s not hard to imagine why a restaurant or other food business might need to rely on friends and neighbors. An ice machine breaks on a Friday afternoon at a place known for its cocktails and oysters on ice, but the technician can’t repair it until Monday. A credit card printer fails, but the new one on order won’t arrive for several days.

A delivery doesn’t come, or is short, or a punctured box means some urgently needed liquid ingredient is leaking out all over the delivery truck. Or maybe, a cook forgot to click that last little box on the online order form so the order is never, ever, going to arrive. Surprise! All of these stories, and many more, are true, and the consequences for small, independently operated businesses with notoriously thin margins can be serious.

If an overnighted order of yeast fails to arrive, “you can’t brew,” explained Will Fisher of Austin Street Brewery, which operates among others on Fox Street and on Industrial Way in Portland. Because breweries tend to know which of their fellow brewers use the same strain of yeast as they do, someone will get on the phone, knock on a loading dock door, or perhaps put out an SOS on Instagram. “Oh my God, does anyone have yeast I can borrow?” Fisher said.

If it is two days before Christmas, and you are Tandem Bakery and your Christmas cookie and pie pre-orders are a milelong, and the power goes out?! What then? That’s what happened last year to the popular bakery in Portland, which even on ordinary days has lines stretching out the door. Thank heavens that the lights were on at Wayside Tavern, the restaurant just across Congress Street. More importantly, the ovens there were working.


Siobhan Sindoni, co-owner of Wayside Tavern, distinctly remembers getting the phone call from Tandem that morning. “‘Hey, we have a bit of an emergency. Um, is there any way we can use your ovens?'” the voice at the other end said. “We said, ‘Yes.’ It was actually more of a benefit for us because of how amazing the entire restaurant smelled. We would never say, ‘No, you can’t.’ We would make it work.

“You want to make sure if you need a favor from them, you have that relationship.”

Some day the shoe will surely be on the other foot.

From left, Atsuko Fujimoto and Courtney Loreg in a booth at Woodford Food & Beverage. The two are former co-workers and old friends. When Fujimoto was between bakeries several years ago, Loreg rearranged her kitchen to make space for Fujimoto to bake and temporarily park her huge mixer. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


Remember Fujimoto taking shifts at Woodford Food & Beverage? A few years earlier, the help went in the other direction. Fujimoto’s then-business, Ten Ten Pié, had abruptly shut down. Shambaugh quickly reconfigured his restaurant’s tight kitchen and altered the morning prep cook’s schedule so Fujimoto could park her ginormous mixer there and bake when the restaurant was closed. A month or so later, when she found a new kitchen, she and her mixer moved out.

“It’s been a porous membrane of appreciation and help,” Shambaugh said.


Small business owners give other reasons for helping each other out, too, among them, the success of one contributes to the success of all. It’d take two hands to count the number of restaurateurs who cited the same (coastal-Maine-apt) aphorism: A rising tide lifts all boats.

“The reason why Maine beer does well is because everyone’s beer is so good,” Fisher said. “If customers came here from out of state and half the breweries weren’t any good and (the customers) are constantly striking out, they would eventually lose interest in coming here altogether.”

Ditto for the food side. In 2018, when Bon Appetit named Portland its Restaurant City of the Year, hordes of tourists showed up in town clutching the magazine and visiting multiple restaurants. Five years later, the city remains a favorite destination for traveling foodies. It took a certain critical mass.


Maybe Mainers are special this way. Perhaps, the severe climate inclines us to help each other. Maybe it’s in our storied character – stoic and practical – that while we don’t like asking for help, we’re always willing to give it.

Or maybe it’s the nature of the business. In the hospitality business, shouldn’t you expect everybody to be hospitable? Sure, have an onion, grab some kitchen towels, take this tub of mayo. It’s yours. Maybe, but more than these, industry people said what is often behind acts of kindness is that everybody employed in their high-stress, backbreaking, punishing line of work “gets it.” They’ve been there.


As Elaine Alden, co-owner of Izakaya Minato on Washington Avenue in Portland, put it: “People will try to help out if they can because they know what it’s like. It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”

That’s quite literally the case. When Duckfat Frites Shack was developing a new recipe recently and needed oranges fast, it wasn’t worth the time or cost of paying an employee to drive to Hannaford, park the car, select fruit, wait in the checkout line, and then do the whole drive/park thing in reverse. Instead, co-owner Nancy Pugh jogged across the street to Terlingua and secured a few oranges.

When Sindoni ran out of french fries to serve with Wayside Tavern’s smash-hit smash burger on a recent Monday night, she knew just who to ask. She phoned CBG down the block. “I said, ‘Hi! This is Siobhan at Wayside. I have a funny question to ask. I’m searching for french fries.’ ”

CBG obliged. “We are all human. We make mistakes. We didn’t order enough potatoes,” Sindoni said, recollecting the lapse. “But it’s a good thing we have friends who can help.”

When the coffee machine at Palace Diner in Biddeford suddenly went on the fritz, the nearby bookstore/coffeeshop Elements hopped to, supplying the diner for several days with continual carafes of hot, brewed coffee. “As everyone knows, a diner isn’t a diner without coffee,” a grateful Chad Conley, who co-owns Palace Diner, wrote in an email.

“For our block, it feels like we have our own small business community that is really sweet and really real,” said Bryna Gootkind, who co-owns LB Kitchen at the foot of Munjoy Hill in Portland. “We really care about each other and each other’s businesses and livelihoods and buildings.”


One last case in point from her neighborhood: When new pizzeria Quanto Basta needed a pizza peel, Chris Deutsch, up Munjoy Hill at Belleville, lent his to Quanto Basta baker/owner Betsy English. She used to work at Belleville. Have we mentioned that in a small restaurant community like that of Portland, people help each other because they know each other personally?

“I’d like to think that the next pizzeria that opens and needs some help from Betsy, that she will do the same,” Deutsch said. “I am sure she will. Pay it forward.”


If this were the Oscars, or the acknowledgements page of a book, now would be the time to list the many, many people and businesses that other restaurant people, brewers and bakers called out by name and thanked. They include Sam Hayward (Fore Street), Andrew Volk (Portland Hunt + Alpine), the indefatigable pastry chef/proprietor Ilma Lopez (Chaval and Ugly Duckling), Jordan Rubin (Mr. Tuna) and about a zillion others.

Take, for one, “Barb” at The Hamburger Stand in Biddeford. “Barb is awesome,” Hamm said.

Among Barb’s many good turns when Hamm and her husband were opening Fish & Whistle was introducing them to a “life-changing” stapler. Naturally, new restaurants stock up on dishware, stoves, fryers, kitchen towels, dishwashing liquid, to-go boxes, food. But who would think of procuring a good stapler? As it turned out, “it’s one of those little detail things that’s crucial, absolutely crucial,” Hamm said. At Fish & Whistle, she and her staff use it constantly for their brisk takeout business, stapling orders to bags and sealing the bags.

What’s Barb’s last name? “I have no idea. None whatsoever,” Hamm admitted sheepishly.

For the record, it’s Barbara Ouellette. And we have a hunch if we phoned her right now, she’d have a long list of her own of industry people who’ve done her a kindness.

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