2013-05-24 / Front Page

Urban pizza joint settles in city

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – After Otto Pizza opened two restaurants on both sides of downtown Portland, the owners of the popular Maine restaurant set their sites on Boston. The Portland-based pizza chain added three more locations in Coolidge Corner, Harvard Square and, last summer, Boston University.

Now, the owners of Otto plan to come back to Maine to open their sixth restaurant, this time on the other side of the Casco Bay Bridge. The new Otto is slated to open at 159 Cottage Road in South Portland.

The property, currently vacant, was previously a Getty gas station. It sits on a busy downtown intersection at Cottage Road and Highland Avenue surrounded by the South Portland Public Library, Holy Cross School and Red’s Dairy Freeze.

Eric Shepherd, director of marketing and information for Otto, said the owners have set late July or early August as a target date to open the new location.

The South Portland City Council unanimously approved Otto’s liquor license at its Monday, May 20 meeting, but the owners must still obtain a building permit from the city before work can begin to turn the former gas station into a restaurant.

South Portland Code Enforcement Officer Pat Doucette said once the building permit application is reviewed and given approval, work can start immediately.

“They have gone through this type of process before, so I am sure they have contractors lined up and ready to move in order to meet their self-imposed deadlines,” Doucette wrote in an email.

According to Shepherd, Otto Pizza owners Anthony Allen and Mike Keon originally planned to open just one new location this year in Lynnfield, Mass. Now, Shepherd said with both locations in the works, “It feels like giving birth to twins.”

Despite the busy period opening two stores, Shepherd said the decision to open in South Portland was easy because of the constant feedback from customers who didn’t want to cross the bridge for pizza in Portland.

“Certain places, if something opens up you’d be insane not to jump at it. South Portland was one of those. We’ve got a lot on our plate right now, but if we passed it up we would have been very sorry,” Shepherd said.

Part of Shepherd’s job description at Otto Pizza is managing the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. He said the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, but some customers have questions about parking and traffic at the busy intersection.

During summer months, the area sees both heavy foot traffic from Red’s Dairy Freeze to the library to two nearby schools, along with heavy traffic flow on two main arteries in South Portland – Highland Avenue and Cottage Road.

Shepherd wasn’t able to offer specifics about how many parking spaces would be available or how to reduce traffic flow, but he did say the company would cooperate with the city to do what it can.

“We have been in discussions, and we are 100 percent willing to work with the city to make sure we have adequate space and not worsening the traffic situation there,” Shepherd said.

Last summer,Kevin Davis, the director of the South Portland Public Library, suggested the city acquire the property at 159 Cottage Road to add to the library’s green space. The discussion generated dozens of Facebook comments from community members with ideas, but the city declined to pursue the matter because of environmental concerns that related to the tanks that were once stored underground.

Shepherd said the Lynnwood and South Portland locations will be a change in direction for Otto because it will rely less on foot traffic than the previous five inner city locations, but the owners look forward to the challenge.

“We like to reuse things, reinvent spaces and use a lot of repurposed materials in every place we open up. Something about this being a former gas station, it’s got our imaginations going,” he said.

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