Is Westbrook eating Portland’s lunch?

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Last winter the beloved Full Belly Deli, a Portland institution for 28 years, closed on Brighton Avenue. The owners, hammered by rising rent and other malign forces, scoured the Old Port for a new location. After weeks of legwork they wound up with bupkis.

“The numbers just didn’t work,” said owner David Rosen Wednesday.

Numbers like $5,000 in monthly rent; $1 an hour to park on the teeming streets, $15 tickets at expired meters; zero parking in the summer. “It may work for a franchise or corporation, but we couldn’t sustain it. It’s out of out league.”

So what’s a beloved family-run business to do?

“It really doesn’t matter where we go,” said Rosen. “People will come to us.”

Next month the Rosens take their killer knish to Westbrook for the Full Belly’s fourth location and new incarnation — Rosen’s Deli, 652 Main St.

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“We will be using Full Belly Deli sandwiches: pastrami and Reubens. And will serve our deli sides like knishes, potato pancakes, potato salad and coleslaw, all from scratch,” said Rosen.

His wife Arren, who is running the show, will pump out fresh carrot and cheese cakes in the “cookie cave.” There is also a deck. Located across from Riverbank Park, the Rosens couldn’t be happier about their westward ho.

Is Portland’s scrappy sister getting a full belly at the Port City’s expense?

“To get into a Portland location is extremely difficult,” said Rosen, who tried for weeks. It was not just the financials that dictated his about face. “You don’t have that vote of confidence. I didn’t feel that anyone was holding out a hand to say ‘let’s help you.'”

The city of Westbrook is another story. Operating like a lean startup, officials are seeing a void in the marketplace and stepping up and reaching out.

Assistant city administrator William Baker dialed the deli kings the minute he heard they where sniffing out space on Main Street. A courtship began.

“For two weeks I chased them down,” said Baker, who did the same for Black Dinah Chocolatiers, the Isle Au Haut co. who settled on Westbrook after failing to find affordable space in Portland.

“Whenever I see someone like the Black Dinah looking for a new home I call them up and say ‘We’d love to have you consider coming here,” said Baker, a one-man welcome wagon.

The personal touch did the trick for the Rosens.

“He called my wife so excited that we are moving in. So happy to help us, to have someone like this in Westbrook made a difference,” said David Rosen.

Though Westbrook lacks the charm of the Old Port, it’s gaining steam. And while no one was looking, is eating Portland’s lunch.

“We couldn’t sustain it,” said Rosen of Portland rents. “We didn’t feel like they wanted us there. It’s much more personal on Main Street in Westbrook.”

And soon much tastier. Look for updates on Rosen’s Deli Facebook page.

 

 

Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.