Maine restaurant leaves diners in state of Grace
By Ros Krasny
PORTLAND, Maine (Reuters) - - A passerby seeing the imposing church building with its massive, red doors bearing the word "Grace" and a mysterious triangular logo could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon some kind of new-age congregation.
In a way that's true, for Grace - the restaurant, housed in a former United Methodist church in downtown Portland, Maine - is now a temple of high-end dining. The two-year-old venture is, visually at least, the crown jewel of the vibrant dining scene in Maine's largest city.
Stepping into Grace, patrons are met by soaring ceilings, 27 original stained-glass windows, and painstakingly restored woodwork inside a landmark building.
The brick-and-brownstone church was last used for services in 2006, but abandoned to pigeons and vagrants because of a waning congregation and the high cost of upkeep for the 1856 Gothic Revival structure.
Entrepreneur Anne Verrill and her then husband Peter bought the property in 2007 for $675,000, saving the church from likely demolition, and set about a top-to-toe, $2 million renovation.
It was a giant step beyond the Verrills' first venture, a cozy tavern in nearby Falmouth, where diners can kick back and watch a hockey game along with their microbrews and burgers.
And long before the first entree could be served, painstaking repairs needed to be done. Funding was scarce and banks skeptical - especially as the U.S. economy slid into recession just weeks after the purchase was made.
"I approached 10 banks and was turned down 10 times until a local bank (Norway Savings Bank of Norway, Maine) and two very kind and forward thinking loan officers saw something in the proposal," said Verrill, a transplanted New Yorker. Continued...