Where: 575 Congress St.
What: Grand Reopening of Empire
When: September, 2013
Walking into the newly renovated Empire on an August night in Portland, ME, I am greeted by two smiling faces. They belong to events promoter Todd Bernard and restaurateur Theresa Chan, the new owners of Empire, who are beaming like proud parents. Covered in paint and sawdust, the close friends have been working tirelessly for months to get ready for the restaurant/venue’s re-launch this September.
“It nearly killed us,” they say as we sit down at an outdoor table across the street from their building. Since it closed down nearly six months ago, Chan and Bernard have done pretty much all of the demolition, cleaning, and reconstruction themselves. “Handmade dumplings, handmade restaurant,” Chan jokes as they explain the various stages of renovation.
In its newest incarnation, the downstairs of Empire will serve authentic Chinese food and Dim Sum (think Chinese brunch). As the restaurant’s manager, Chan is following in the footsteps of her father, an engineer and restaurateur who escaped from Communist China by swimming many miles to reach British Hong Kong.
“My father always liked Maine because he said it had the best seafood and the best produce,” Theresa says of Freeman Chan, who helped with much of the construction, as well as recipes. “Chinese food is supposed to be made with fresh ingredients, heated up very quickly,” so they plan on having Empire feature traditional recipes using local ingredients.
“If we’re going to open a business, why not do something exceptional?”
The upstairs of Empire (formerly known as Empire Dine and Dance) will remain a music venue and events space, with Bernard managing the calendar. As a founder of SPACE Gallery, Portland’s leading alternative arts venue, he was one of the main forces bringing national acts like The Killers, Gillian Welch, and Of Montreal to Maine, especially during the years that the State Theatre was shut down.
Todd says Empire will host several shows a week featuring local, regional, and national acts, and will continue as home of the “Clash of the Titans” series (where local musicians compete to see who can best embody popular music icons). But drawing on his experience at SPACE, he is also interested using the venue for other creative purposes. “Whether it’s film showings, art openings, or private parties,” he says, “if it fits our aesthetic and makes sense, we’re open to it.”
Despite the insane amount of work the pair has done over the summer, and with full knowledge of the challenges ahead, they are amazingly energetic and upbeat. Between them, there is a clear vision and drive to build a location that is creative, unique, and complementary at Empire. “If we’re going to open a business,” they say, “why not do something exceptional?”
Upcoming events at Empire in Portland Maine:
10/10/13: The Milk Carton Kids
10/11/13: The Neighbourhood (almost sold out as of 9/23/13)
10/15/13: The Parkington Sisters
11/14/13: Plants and Animals
12/04/13: Lucius with Kingsley Flood