The list of Portland restaurants that are shutting their doors due to the coronavirus keeps growing. Now, we can add Vinland Restaurant to the list. The owner, David Levi, posted an eloquent letter (below) on the restaurant's Facebook page announcing his decision to shutter his beloved place, and how "Vinland could not withstand the long quarantine required for the Covid-19 pandemic, the disproportionate impact on the fine dining sector of the food industry, and the overall downturn in the economy…"

Vinland was located at 593 Congress Street in Portland, Maine. The restaurant described itself as "the modern world's first restaurant to use only 100% local ingredients in every dish." Levi's beautifully written note may bring a tear to the eyes of its former diners, or perhaps to someone who never got to experience the fine food and delightful ambiance. Now, they never will.

In the event the Facebook post is not visible, or it is removed, here is the letter Levi wrote:

"Commencement." The word gave me pause when I first understood it as a synonym (or euphemism) for its apparent antonym: "ending." The ending of college is so regularly called “commencement” that it’s actually the almost singular context in which we use the term. But commencement means “beginning.” In the context of education, it’s not hard to understand why the emphasis, at the moment of graduation, should be on the great project of adult life for which college may have been the last stage of preparation. There is truth here that applies beyond the experience of formal education. It may be trite to note that in every end is a new beginning, but life experience brings depths of meaning to clichés.
Vinland has closed. It is a hard loss for me and for those closest to me, professionally and personally. It is also a beginning. Vinland could not withstand the long quarantine required for the Covid-19 pandemic, the disproportionate impact on the fine dining sector of the food industry, and the overall downturn in the economy, the last of which may reverberate for years. This is plain and simple. It’s a reality that was not lost on me as I cooked and served the last Vinland meals on March 15th, but one which settled in and calcified, slowly, over the ensuing months. I’d hoped for a reopening even as I failed to see the viable path. The path, for us, didn’t exist.
To me, Vinland was something beautiful and precious. It was the realization of a lifelong dream. But it was no dream. For over six years, the Vinland team and I gave it our all (and sometimes more) to bring people joy by showing them something new and eye-opening, something unique to this time and place, a cuisine rooted in the land which is our home and the sea that’s so much a part of it, just as it was rooted in ethics, nutrition, and sheer pleasure. We set the bar high. We made mistakes. We did our best to learn from them. We grew and evolved and we showed that it could all be done. We held steadfast to our core commitment: 100% local ingredients in every dish, all ethically sourced from small farms and the wild. There were some vocal skeptics at the outset, a painful reality that caught me by surprise. Year after year, we proved them wrong. This ambitious little dream worked because we made it work. It worked because we had a community of guests, farmers, foragers, fishermen, and food artisans who made it work. I will be grateful to them until the day I die.
In the ending of my daily routine, the ending of my little community, the ending (for now) of this reimagined local cuisine, where is the beginning? Well, for one, my wife and not-quite two-year-old son are soon to welcome a new addition to our family, and I feel blessed to be spending far more of my time with my wife, my son, and, very soon, my daughter. No one works for long in the restaurant industry without feeling the strain on personal relationships, especially family. The too long hours on too many days are also at completely the wrong times to actually spend what little is left with the other people in our lives.
But there’s more. Wendell Berry wrote, “What we need is here.” This quote was printed on every Vinland menu. It was at the heart of this project, and the far broader project of reconnecting ourselves to our land. If the fruit of this big little dream has now been reaped and enjoyed, the body and roots of the plant are composting in the soil of our culture to give new life in time to come. No one should ever again doubt that Maine ingredients are second to none in this world. No one should ever doubt that they can comprise the basis for a cuisine that can stand toe-to-toe with any other in this world. No one should ever doubt that a small business committed to putting ethics and mission first can exist and thrive in this world.
Vinland has left me changed, and I believe for the better. It was a crucible and it was a gift. In old cultures, it was often believed that a gift shouldn’t be kept for too long. We have to keep our gifts moving through the community, or they become a burden, even a poison. The value is in continual giving, never clutching. We let go of this project, this incarnation, and we make way for what’s to come. If Vinland is one small contributor to the rich and fertile cultural soil of Portland and of Maine, that’s not just an honor. It’s a beginning.
Have I served my last oat brown bread, my last hakurei turnip soup, my last smoked monkfish, my last parsnip turmeric custard? Has Timm served his last Sunstone cocktail? No. So stay tuned. There will be more Vinland meals. Just not at Vinland, and not six nights a week. If we’ve entered the Brigadoon stage, I promise, we’ll show up a little more often than once a century.

Begin the begin, over and over.

With all my heart,

David Levi

(Photo Credit: Prill/ThinkStock)

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