Envisioning the Next Chapter for a SoPo Building

The Knightville neighborhood has long been a hub for commercial and community activity in South Portland. When broker Sam LeGeyt put an Ocean Street commercial building on the market, he knew it was the perfect opportunity to bring a bold vision to the heart of the neighborhood. The building had both office space and room for three restaurants. While it was occupied with tenants at the time of the sale, LeGeyt saw enormous potential for the building. He just needed to find a buyer with a vision. “This is one of the challenging and rewarding parts of real estate,” shares LeGeyt. “This was a building with a story to tell, but not all buyers and tenants can envision the potential of a space. Portland has a vibrant dining scene. I kept thinking, ‘How cool if that could be on this side of the bridge.’ Someplace you could walk to or stop by on the way home from work. When people from abutting neighborhoods come down for a drink – it supports the community.”  Sam’s wasn’t the only one to have that vision. Tim and Sharon Sanfino, along with fellow Dunham Group broker Chris Craig, also saw an opportunity to build an inspiring next chapter for the underutilized building.

Tim and Sharon Sanfino have worked with The Dunham Group for over 20 years – both buying and selling properties in that time. He was looking for his first commercial property when Craig showed him the Ocean Street building. Craig brings decades of experience and a deep market knowledge to the table, and he knew that this SoPo neighborhood was changing and ready for new businesses. With neighboring Portland’s saturated restaurant market and sky-high rents, Craig saw an exciting opportunity for the Sanfinos to build something great in this South Portland space. “It’s impossible to find restaurant space in Portland,” says Craig. “Everything is expensive, which makes South Portland attractive.” The Sanfinos were excited by the possibilities and with Craig’s guidance felt confident to make the purchase. The tired SoPo building had a lot of deferred maintenance, so the Sanfinos needed to have considerable work done, including replacing the HVAC system. “Chris knows a lot about restaurants,” shares Tim Sanfino. “His market knowledge was essential – from putting in a new hood system and a new heating system, to providing lease examples.” When the original tenants of the building left, the Sanfinos saw that they had an opportunity to upgrade the caliber of restaurants in the space. Together, Craig and the Sanfinos envisioned a trio of restaurants that would serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This way there would be activity at the building throughout the day, creating a lively, vibrant feel to the street while not overburdening the parking. Their vision required patience. “Could I have rented out the space quickly at a higher rate? Yes, but I was willing to go empty to find the right fit,” shares Tim Sanfino. Craig loved working with the Sanfinos to find the right tenants. “It was really fun to do. We weren’t desperate. We could collaborate on who we could get into the building.” Taking the risk paid off and now this charming building hosts three of Southern Maine’s best restaurants: Judy Gibson, Cafe Louis, and SoPo Seafood.

Getting tenant SoPo Seafood into the building was another collaborative effort that brought LeGeyt back into the mix. “Even after a building leaves my desk as a sale, I’m always interested,” shares LeGeyt. “There are no closed offices at The Dunham Group and we meet regularly as a team. Chris was updating everyone on the progress of the building. To have that level of communication at the office is helpful.” Since LeGeyt had been working with Lucas Myers to find the right retail location for his business, SoPo Seafood, he had his eye out for options in the South Portland market. LeGeyt was invested in finding a space that would contribute to the success of Myers’ business. The pair had developed a friendship over the years and LeGeyt was a loyal customer, regularly ordering seafood and visiting Myers’ mobile oyster bar. Myers himself had lived in South Portland for 18 years and was familiar with the building; he used to take his daughter Iris to Uncle Andy’s – one of the previous tenants in the building – for brunch. Myers showed up to the first showing at the Ocean Street building on his bicycle. Of working with The Dunham Group, he says “Sam was knowledgeable and aware of our needs. He was putting our needs first. I had hoped to find retail space in my community. I wanted to bike to work. We recognized this space as a meeting spot.” Initially, Myers planned only for a seafood retail market at this address but his business plans evolved with the possibilities of the space. Myers signed his lease at the beginning of Covid, but all parties involved were cognizant of the strife of the time and committed to the same goal. With a supportive relationship in place with the Sanfinos, Myers invested heavily in the space and built a horseshoe counter with stools that allowed for a seamless connection between the retail section and the oyster bar. “It was always in the back of my head to have a spot for oysters to be shucked and served. The cool horseshoe bar with stools – that’s a tribute to Uncle Andy’s horseshoe counter. We wanted to create a space that was very conversation-forward in the tradition of Uncle Andy’s. I’m happy to move into a spot and be a host for community conversation. People come in, they see friends, and they meet other people.” It wasn’t easy to bring this vision to life and Myers relied heavily on LeGeyt. “Sam was always there to take my calls. He was always there with a knowledgeable answer. If not, he was out finding the answer in a short time.”

Sopo Seafood, along with Cafe Louis and Judy Gibson, is now part of a revitalized block in the Knightville neighborhood. Says Tim Sanfino, “Almost everyone I talk to in Cape Elizabeth and South Portland are so happy they don’t have to cross the bridge to get oysters or an excellent dinner.” The SoPo community and the larger Southern Maine community agree; all three restaurants have made the Portland Press Herald’s “Best Places to Eat and Drink.” While brokering another successful commercial property is a win, what truly motivates The Dunham Group team is the long-lasting relationships with clients that are built during the process. On working with Craig, Tim Sanfino shares, “We’ve got a 20 year relationship. We help each other out in between the contracts that we sign. I trust him and he knows I’ll hire him again.” Myers echoes this when speaking on his relationship with LeGeyt: “I still work with Sam. He’s keeping an eye out for the next opportunity. It’s a continued partnership.”

For over 45 years, The Dunham Group has provided in-depth market knowledge and trustworthy representation for its clients. Our collaborative approach ensures that our clients benefit from the combined resources of our team of brokers, now and in the years to come.

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