Matt Haskell, owner of Blaze restaurants across Maine, wants people to know that the California restaurant chain with a very similar name to his that’s entering the Maine market is in no way related to his businesses.
A Falmouth-based restaurant developer told the Portland Press Herald this week that his company plans to open three locations for the Blaze Pizza franchise in Westbrook, Brunswick and Portland sometime in the “near future.”
But the fast-casual chain is completely unrelated to Haskell’s growing empire of restaurants and breweries, which now has locations in West Market Square in Bangor, downtown Bar Harbor, Biddeford, Camden and Dover-Foxcroft. Since 2011, when the Bar Harbor location first opened, it has offered contemporary classics like pizza, burgers, steaks, seafood and tacos cooked in a wood-fired oven, alongside craft beer and cocktails.
A sixth location, Blaze Urban Pizza, located on Main Street in Bangor, has been in the works for the better part of six years, but has been slow to open thanks to a series of complications involving licensing, as well as the pandemic.
Haskell said a big part of the delay has been transforming all five of his locations so they have brewing capabilities on site. The beers offered by Blaze Brewing have been far more popular with customers than he originally anticipated, and pre-pandemic, Haskell and company decided to update the restaurants to all have breweries onsite.
Getting individual brewing licenses for five distinct properties has been highly complicated, however, with each location requiring their own sets of renovations and fixes to make them compliant with state regulations for breweries.
“We’ve spent the last number of years doing that, which has taken a lot of time and investment,” Haskell said. “It’s a very complicated process.”
For now, only the Camden and Biddeford locations’ breweries are open. Bar Harbor’s brewery was recently completed and will open soon, and Bangor’s is presently under construction on the second floor of the West Market Square restaurant, a space that formerly housed a secondary kitchen for the restaurant and additional seating. Dover-Foxcroft’s brewery will open at a later date.
All that — plus a global pandemic that shut down operations for eateries across the state for months and put huge strains on the supply chain — has further slowed down the process of opening Blaze Urban Pizza on Main Street in Bangor. That location was first announced in October 2016 and was slated to offer wood-fired pizza and craft beer in its location next door to a Dunkin Donuts, and across the street from the Maine Savings Amphitheater.
Turning a location that formerly housed a laundromat and dry cleaner into a restaurant isn’t easy, however, especially when you’re juggling five other restaurants that are all in various stages of flux.
But Haskell said that work on Main Street has sped up over the spring and summer of this year, and he said the space is now about 85 percent finished. Blaze Urban Pizza can open once Blaze acquires the brewing license for its West Market Square location, as Haskell plans to serve beer brewed at West Market Square at the Main Street pizza restaurant.
“Getting the brewing license in Bangor is the last piece of the puzzle,” he said. “We are really close.”
When it opens, Haskell said that in addition to wood-fired pizza, and craft beer, cider, wine and cocktails, Blaze Urban Pizza will offer smash burgers and other non-pizza menu items. Outdoor seating will be offered in the warmer months, and the restaurant’s close proximity to the concert venue should prove popular with concert-goers.