DiMillo's On the Water/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories
DiMillo's On the Water: An Anchor on the Portland, Maine Dining
Scene Fresh seafood, lobster
dinners and unforgettable water views provide a memorable experience at
this one-of-a-kind, iconic family-owned and operated restaurant
On the Water.
Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz.
created on 2/24/2020.
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If one took all the special
things about a coastal New England dining out experience and put it all in
one place, DiMillo's On the Water in
Portland, Maine would serve as the gold standard prototype.
Stunning water views from the converted car ferry's first
and second deck lend some of the most
impressive restaurant scenery in New England. Boats
bobbing up and down in the harbor water act as if they were nodding
approval at the restaurant. The
summer ocean breeze and
salt sea air from the outdoor dining decks serve as Mother Nature's
flavor enhancers to further set the memorable, refreshing classic
coastal Maine tone.
"You don't get
much more of a waterfront
front view than actually being on the water," said Chuck Igo, morning
personality at Rewind 100.9 FM in Portland, of DiMillo's perfect location.
Dining by the water at
Located at the Portland waterfront's Long Wharf, this
unforgettable floating restaurant possesses an uncanny ability to take
customer away from daily life and into another place -- much like the
feeling of feeling fully connected to a favorite vacation spot.
many hours to enjoy the water views and local seafood bliss. Mary Ellen Mercier, who lives about
two-and-a-half-hours away in a
small town southwest of Boston, Mass. has made DiMillo's an annual tradition with her
"My husband and I celebrate our anniversary at DiMillo's every July,"
said Mercier. "The food is exceptional, worth the wait.
Beautiful sunset on the bow while watching boats coming and going. A
real romantic experience."
Enjoying deck dining at DiMillo's. Photo credit: Johnny DiMillo.
Of course, a coastal Maine waterfront
restaurant without local seafood would sink the dining experience to
"below C level" (sorry, bad pun).
Think of DiMillo's as a big, high volume restaurant with the passion of a
small restaurant, courtesy of a tight multi-generational family-run
business and a highly skilled Maine-born executive chef (more on that
fresh-off-the-boat, locally caught seafood that is
forever associated with the Maine way of life starting, of course,
with single or double steamed lobster all caught within a mile of the
Steamed lobster with mussels. Photo credit: Johnny DiMillo.
DiMillo's On the Water, however, shells out much more than steamed Maine
lobster. As an extension of that regional favorite dish, lobster here
comes in the form of baked stuffed, club sandwich, a "lazy
lobster" sauteed in butter, mac and cheese, a deep fried lobster tail or
an overflowing lobster roll with tender flavorful lobster and very
The lobster stew reigns as a culinary marvel with chunks of lobster in
a creamy, flavorful fish broth. What a difference from the
overly-thick-flour-base-meets-frozen-lobster-meat versions served in
A look at the family-friendly lunch and dinner menus showcases a well-balanced variety, of course,
steered by local seafood like native haddock, Atlantic salmon, fried
clams and scallops. DiMillo's On the Water is not all about seafood,
however, as they also focus on having something for everyone including
Certified Angus Beef® sirloin, filet mignon and prime rib (Friday and
Saturday until it runs out!) dishes, Tuscan fried chicken, gourmet
salads, homemade soups and chowders, and traditional Italian dishes
(many featuring seafood).
Filet mignon. Photo credit: DiMillo's Facebook page.
Sandwiches are substantial and mouthwatering, including this calamari
burger that wonderfully combines tastes from land and sea...
Calamari burger. Photo credit: DiMillo's Facebook page.
The appetizers are most appetizing like the jumbo shrimp, steamed Maine
clams, sauteed mussels, crispy fried oysters, bacon wrapped scallops,
Sicilian meatball, spicy seared tuna and Polenta fried calamari.
Desserts can take on a wonderful Maine theme like this wild Maine blueberry
with vanilla ice cream...
Maine blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
Such a nice place to eat but also with an atmosphere that matches the
high quality of the food! Once passing through the gangplank...
and the perimeter of the restaurant...
Walking the corridor at DiMillo's.
the dining areas achieve a beauty that is rarely seen at large,
high volume restaurants. The aura consistently remains unaffected,
unpretentious and genuine throughout the whole space. It also
happens to be ultra-comfortable and cozy whether at the main dining
Main dining room.
or a more intimate setting by a fireplace...
Cozy setting at DiMillo's.
The bar area also feels so right (and offering many fine local wines, beers and cocktails)...
and also affords splendid water views...
Water view from the bar.
Some parts of the restaurant show the Portland skyline, which comes
across through the windows as almost like a painting. It's a sight you
could look at all day.
Enjoying the Portland skyline.
It is clear as a sunny day at the harbor that DiMillo's On the Water is not only in
the business of serving Maine seafood with water views but also
creating unforgettable memories. Whether a day with the family, date
night out, a wedding, banquet, business meeting, special event,
anniversary or rehearsal dinner, it's
hard to think of a better place to be.
"Been going there for 40 years and I've never been disappointed,"
said Igo. "We've been for dinners for two and dinners for 14, as well
as company/work functions, weddings and other events, too. The DiMillo
family has always worked hard to put out the best experience and food.
Personal favorite: The 'Chowdah!' I'm a 'thick chowdah' guy and I could
always pick theirs out when serving as a judge at the annual Chili
& Chowder Challenge fundraising event here in Portland. And, yeah,
the scenery is pretty cool."
DiMillo's On the Water: Born out of a close-knit, hard-working
The DiMillo family. Photo credit: DiMillo's.
Tony DiMillo, who immigrated to the United States from Canada, first opened a restaurant in 1954 as Anthony's on Fore
St. in Portland. The restaurant became famous for the slogan, “The
clams you eat here today slept last night in Casco Bay."
When development began to change the look of Fore St., Tony moved his
business in 1960
to Center St. In 1965, Tony opened DiMillo’s On the Waterfront
just across the street from the current DiMillo's location.
As an astute businessman aware of the city's emerging waterfront
presence, Tony purchased then-blighted Long Wharf, quickly filling all
Tony DiMillo. Photo source: DiMillo's web site.
1982 then brought the most significant transitional business moment in
history: Tony and family converted a car ferry into
DiMillo's Floating Restaurant at Long Wharf. It became the only
floating restaurant on the East Coast. To this very day, the restaurant provides a larger-than-life sight. The car
ferry's overall length is 206 ft. with a beam of 65 feet and weighs 701
tons. The ferry seats more than 600 guests in the first deck dining
room, Port Side Lounge, second deck dining rooms and three outside
Tony died in 1999 but the legacy continued with five of his nine
children working on the property which, in addition to DiMillo's On the Water, includes DiMillo's Marina and DiMillo's Yacht Sales.
DiMillo's On the Water,
there almost seems to be as many DiMillos as fish in the sea.
sons help carry on the tradition. Steven serves as the manager. He
started in the family business at eight-years old, beginning as a dish
washer and working in every department prior to his current role as
manager. Steven also serves on the board of the Maine Restaurant Association.
Johnny, a U.S. Army
veteran, has been at DiMillo's since high school and works as manager
and social media manager. Steve's son, Steve,
Jr. -- a University of Vermont graduate with a bachelors degree in
heads the banquet department. Steve Sr.'s daughter, Chelsea, works as
beverage director. She is a University of Southern Maine
graduate with a degree in studio art. Brother-in-law Tony Quattrucci is the
manager. Nieces work in various parts of the restaurant.
"I love working with family," said Chelsea. "I am one of the few of my
generation who remembers grandpa and all he did. To continue his legacy
is fulfilling. My dad, he's sometimes gives me the hardest time but it
is only for the better. It's all about the work ethic and enjoying what
we do. My dad has instilled that into us. Since a very young age, there
hasn't been six months gone by that I haven't worked here."
Niece Lena DiMillo has only worked at DiMillo's for a few months but
enjoys her full-time position at the front of the restaurant.
"It's nice and comfortable and I like helping out family and the
customers," said Lena. "I would like to work here for the rest of my
"Familiar faces" outside the family have also worked at DiMillo's for
many years including kitchen manager Fred Breton who began employment
here in 1988. Lisa Baugher, the bar manager, has worked at DiMillo's
for several years. Missy Anderson, the dining room manager, started at DiMillo's
in 2009 first working as a waitress.
Melissa Bouchard has been
employed at the waterfront restaurant since 2001. She has served as
executive chef for nearly the past decade and helped
transformed DiMillo's food from good to great.
The Eastport, Maine
native once had aspirations to be a nurse but found better career
wellness by pursuing her love of cooking. The move proved to be correct as
Bouchard earned 2009 and 2012 finalist accolades for the Maine Lobster
Chef of the Year competition. She also serves as a Chef Ambassador for
the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. Additionally, Melissa was
appointed in 2012 to represent the State of Maine in the Great American
Seafood Cook off in New Orleans, La. Melissa was also named the Maine
Restaurant Association’s first female Chef of the Year in 2013.
Melissa holds a cooking class. Photo credit: Johnny DiMillo.
"She has really helped elevate the food," said Steven, of Bouchard. "We
had good recipes but just weren't using them enough. We always brought
in fresh fish locally but needed to do more with that seafood. Melissa
brought a creativity that really changed things over the past several
years. We once
struggled, trying to keep up with the volume of customers
coming in. In a small community, it takes a while to shed the tourist
restaurant image but we did just that."
As further expression to DiMillo's refreshed commitment to top-notch food,
cooking classes with the public at the restaurant.
It has become a very popular event.
Cooking classes include an
appetizer and entree, both served with a glass of paired wine.
Steak dish created during cooking class at DiMillo's. Photo
credit: Johnny DiMillo.
Even during the
DiMillo's brings in a robust business with more of a local crowd. Aptly
named "Locals’ Season," DiMillo’s On the Water shows appreciation to
the Portland and vicinity crowd with an updated menu including happy
hour and early dinner specials.
"This is our favorite time of the year because we can enjoy spending
more time with locals and their families," said Chelsea.
"Ferry" Tales Do Come True
The converted car ferry has a rather fascinating history that eventually led to
the birth of a landmark Portland restaurant. Here is its chronology (source: DiMillo's web site)...
Commissioned “The New York,” it ran as a car ferry between New Castle,
Delaware and Pennsville, N.J.
"The New York." Photo source: DiMillo's web site.
Sold to the state of Virginia and renamed “The Norfolk.” Ran between
Norfolk and Hampton, Va.
Sold to the state of Rhode Island and renamed “The Newport.” Ran
between Newport and Jamestown, R.I.
Sold to the city of Pawtucket, R.I. and used as housing for a youth
center art colony.
Sold to the Setaucket Yacht Club of Port Jefferson, N.Y. and utilized
for boat storage and as its clubhouse.
Purchased by the DiMillo family.
The arrival of the car ferry to Portland. Photo source:
DiMillo's web site.
1982 Opened as DiMillo’s
Installed a new hull at the Bath Iron Works dry dock.
A new hull installed. Photo source: DiMillo's web site.
Situated at the end of Long Wharf Promenade, the
location today offers access to the waterfront as well as being a
to the restaurant, DiMillo's Yacht Sales and DiMillo's Old Port Marina.
What Tony created is stuff made out of the American Dream. He grew up poor in Portland but found a way to
bring tourism and restaurant customers to the waterfront in place of a once inaccessible industrial
family were mostly masons -- how poetic it must have been to see
builders of stone evolve into builders of small business successes.
Welcoming dining area at DiMillo's On the Water.
One of the biggest challenges for tourists and locals to find in a
restaurant is a combination of essentials: consistency, quality,
top-notch service, good value for the money and a memorable atmosphere.
DiMillo's On the Water attains all of these critical tenets starting
with its foundation of a long-established family-owned and operated
business that commits to fresh local seafood, the presence of a
creative chef and a most pleasing, memorable dining setting by the
water. It's like the restaurant version of an all-inclusive resort --
that is, offering something special for everyone. Plus, it feels like
Maine here. What could be better, for example, than dining out on a
waterfront deck over a few drinks with outstanding seafood that has been sourced locally?
Dining by the water at DiMillo's. Photo credit: Johnny DiMillo.
restaurants have come and gone through the years with a good number of
traditional spots, unfortunately, falling into the latter category.
DiMillo's On the Water survived those years including the bad economies
and "hot" restaurant trends. Like fine wine, DiMillo's just kept
getting better and better instead of just resting on its laurels.
As Portland continuously transforms into one of New England's most
beloved cities, the dining out scene has evolved accordingly, also.
Coffeehouses, cafes, brewing companies, bistros and bakeries have saturated the revitalized
18th century brick neighborhoods in and beyond the prized Old
Port District, just
up the street from DiMillo's.
Many locals and visitors, however, stay with the traditional ways
of DiMillo's On the
Water, knowing that the power of Maine Lobster, unforgettable coastal
scenery and a menu to satisfy all appetites creates an
irresistible place to eat. While the DiMillos have come a long way
since Tony first opened a restaurant in 1954, family members have
carried on the grand tradition -- just on a larger scale.
"There's something to be said about fresh fish brought to us daily by
long-time vendors," said Steven. "We are now better than ever by
paying attention to our brand, serving delicious local seafood and
more, having a welcoming atmosphere and keeping the staff happy!"
On the Water is located at 25 Long Wharf, Portland, ME. Tel. (207)
Web site: https://www.dimillos.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/portlandmainelobster/
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If you love dining out by
the sea in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, be sure to check out...
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