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Cowbell Grill & Tap


District Manager Andrew Cessario relaxes against the bar in the main room of the Cowbell Grill & Tap. 

Story and photos by Nathan Tsukroff, PortraitEFX

Chef, bartender, waiter . . . Andrew Cessario has done it all at the Cowbell Grill & Tap at 49 Lisbon Street, Lewiston, during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

District manager of the three Cowbell restaurants – the Lewiston restaurant, the Cowbell Burger Bar in Biddeford, and the Cowbell Wood-Fired Grill in Scarborough – Cessario has been working full time at the Lewiston location to help while the restaurants deal with the changes in restaurant attendance since mid-March. 

The restaurants are high-end burger establishments, owned by Alex Markakis with business partner Jim Albert, who also owns Jimmy the Greeks in Old Orchard Beach. 

The Cowbell Burger Bar in Biddeford has been open more than four years, while the Cowbell Grill & Tap opened in Lewiston in December 2018. The Cowbell Wood-Fired Grill in Scarborough had a grand-opening the beginning of March this, was shut down about within two weeks because of the pandemic, then had a grand re-opening in June when state restrictions were eased. 

Cessario said the Lewiston restaurant and bar did not have guests inside from mid-March through mid-June. Instead, they provided take-out and delivery for their 25 “craft” burgers and other foods. Delivery is through Uber Eats and DoorDash, he said. 

Right now, Cowbell Grill & Tap is allowed to have up to 50 people indoors, socially distanced, which is about half of their normal capacity. There is seating for up to 24 guests on the six tables outside. The original outdoor seating included just three tables, but the city of Lewiston has allowed Cowbell to use both sides of the wide sidewalk in front of the building, while leaving room for pedestrians up the middle. The other two restaurants are also seeing business at about half-capacity indoors, Cessario said. 

Takeout service was minimal before the pandemic, Cessario said, but has now expanded to around 40 to 50 percent of the restaurant’s business and “has really kept us afloat” financially during the pandemic. 

While the number of guests visiting in person is reduced, Cowbell in Lewiston has seen more guests in-person than expected, he said, perhaps because people are preferring to stay in the Lewiston area during the pandemic. 

The other Cowbell restaurants have also expanded outdoor seating. At the location in Scarborough, “We’re lucky enough to have already a 50-seat patio. But we also have a large lawn, so we’ve expanded to lawn seating,” Cessario said. In Biddeford, the Cowbell Burger Bar has expanded its sidewalk seating, and “we also have a five-table patio out back.” 

The shut-down of the restaurant had a big impact on staffing, as well. About three-quarters of the staff at all three restaurants are part-timers, which is typical for restaurants and bars. This created issues with staffing as the restaurants opened up again, since some workers preferred to collect the expanded unemployment benefits provided by the federal government. Now, staff members are returning to work, helping by taking orders in person and responding to requests for take-out and delivery. 

While the Lewiston location was closed to all but takeout and delivery, Cessario and another person were the only workers, answering phones, cooking, and responding to takeout requests. Staffing is back up to about 80 percent from the level before the pandemic, he said. 

Up to 8 people work in the kitchen during the week, prepping food, cooking, and readying the finished meals. Burgers are delivered with a branded “C” on the top bun. 

Tables and chairs are sanitized, and staff “are always wearing masks,” Cessario said. “We’re starting to see a rebound . . . more and more people coming out” to the restaurant. “Obviously, having a safe place, a sanitized place . . . allows for people to feel safe when they come in the building.”  

 “I’ve seen much more preference for outdoor seating, unless it’s raining out or oppressively hot,” he said.  

Cowbell Grill & Tap opened its bar area to guests when indoor seating was allowed in mid-June. Due to the current restrictions, there is seating for 10 guests at the bar, with appropriate social distancing. 

Despite the recent issues from the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurants have seen success to the point that the Cowbell group of restaurants “is definitely expanding,” Cessario said. “We’re looking at a couple of different markets, but yes, the goal is definitely to expand.” Markets are areas around a community, such as Lewiston or Biddeford or Scarborough, he said.

While several smaller restaurants in Portland have closed due to lost business during the pandemic, Cessario said that was due to the loss of tourists in that area. Much of the Old Port area of Portland sees crowds of visitors from cruise ships during the summer. The Lewiston and other locations are not as dependent on seasonal tourists, so business has rebounded with the lifted restrictions. 

The Lewiston Cowbell has actually seen more dine-in guests that last year, Cessario said. Instead of going to the beach or the mountains, people are staying in the area, he said. 

Cowbell’s “craft” burgers Have different toppings to go on different types of meat, such as Angus beef, waygu beef, 100-percent grass-fed beef, bison burgers, salmon, chicken, and the “Beyond Beef” vegetable burgers. Guests order their own burger on a selection of buns, cooked to order. 

Cowbell also sells 25 “craft” beers from micro breweries throughout southern Maine, mainly from the Portland area, Cessario said. The pandemic shutdowns have hurt breweries and beer vendors financially, due to the big loss in alcohol sales at restaurants.  

Click HERE to jump to the Cowbell of Lewiston website.

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