Nestled alongside the Kennebunk River in Maine, the famous Hurricane Restaurant is weathering the storms of the times with old-fashioned ingenuity and the support of the town.
Serving patrons in the quaint New England site, where restaurants have stood since the 1800s, new owner Taylor Benenti had only taken over the reins of Hurricane Restaurant in January 2019 and had outdoor expansion plans when the coronavirus lockdown occurred.
As luck would have it, the restaurant had already been approved for outdoor seating prior to the lockdown, and “pro-business” Kennebunkport Selectmen were only too happy to grant the restaurant additional outdoor space for river-side dining.
“Our biggest goal before the coronavirus was to get approval for outdoor dining,” Benenti says. “We’d already been approved for seating in a small outdoor area, and the town was very supportive when we, and another restaurant, requested permission to put up a large tent along the Kennebunk River. We’re fortunate that we have a very pro-business community. This helped us move pretty quickly to create a beautiful space catering to families.”
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Benenti discusses how the Hurricane Restaurant has flexed and pivoted during the surprise hospitality storms.
BB: Please describe Hurricane Restaurant’s outdoor dining.
TB: After the town granted us, and another restaurant, permission to install a large outdoor tent, we put up a really nice structure and dressed it up. We put down outdoor rugs and added a large floral design element to give it a really nice feeling. We designed it so that seventy-five percent of the seating is underneath the tent, but there’s a few seats that are uncovered for patrons who want to enjoy the sun.
We also put out high tops and have added decorative lights in the tent, and put our restaurant’s tables beneath the tent with candles. It looks really nice.
BB: How did the outdoor seating keep Hurricane Restaurant afloat?
TB: The outdoor element helped us attract more families to our restaurant. Our interior space was always a little tight, but the outdoor space allowed us much more generous spacing between tables in order to maintain the social distancing.
But, what really helped us crawl out of the hole we experienced during the lockdown was our new space allowed us to expand our lunch business. Ordinarily our lunches run about 50-60 people a day. Since we’ve added the outdoor dining, we’re attracting about 150-to-180 people a day.
BB: Wow, that’s great! What else did you do to bring back customers?
TB: We offer live music at night, and the sound combined with our extensive wine list, has been very appealing. We’re also adapting to a whole new type of clientele and serve a lot more families than we ever did. And we also serve walk-ins now, which is something we never used to do.
BB: What menu items make Hurricane Restaurant shine?
TB: We have an extensive wine list, with 250 bottles and 45 wine pours on the menu. This has been really attractive to patrons who are now able to sit beside the beautiful Kennebunk River and sip wine. But our food put us on the map. We’re a scratch-restaurant, and we make every sauce, every salad dressing, and even the demiglace in house. Our menu has a lot of what you might expect in Maine in the summertime, like baked stuffed lobster, veal chops, rack of lamb, tenderloin, and fresh seafood.
BB: As new owner, has this been a bit of a trial by fire?
TB: Yes! I’ve been saying that if I can get through this, I can get through anything. I took over as owner/operator in January 2019. This restaurant, which has been here for 30 years, has been a staple in Kennebunkport. I grew up here, and grew up coming to this restaurant as a kid. When the owner decided to sell, I was approached to take it over.
BB: As a seasonal restaurant in Maine, how do you plan the rest of the year?
TB: We typically close the second week of December after the big Christmas events here. And reopen April 1st. We’re waiting to see if the annual Christmas parade will take place and whether we’ll get a late-season pop of tourism. We’ve been hoping that people will come to Maine later for their vacation. — Hurricane Restaurant is a treasured Boxerbrand customer and uses Capri menu covers in their table presentation. Thank you!