WINDHAM — Plans for a new country-themed restaurant and bar are generating some buzz in Windham.
Erik’s Church, a restaurant and bar currently under construction in the Sebago Plaza off of Route 302 in north Windham, received its liquor license and several permits from the Windham Town Council Feb. 13. Several councilors wished the project luck or expressed excitement for the new venue.
Owner Ken Cianchette is currently overseeing construction at the location, part of which was previously home to Windham Billiards, and hopes to have a soft opening for the 104 seat restaurant in March with an official opening in mid or late April.
“We’re modeling it after something that you might find sort of down towards the Nashville area,” Cianchette said, adding that it will “first and foremost” be a restaurant that also includes a bar, stage and dance floor.
Along with full-service food, Cianchette said that Erik’s Church will have takeout and live entertainment. He said other activities including line dancing, trivia, and music tribute nights could become part of the rotation as well.
“Basically what we’re trying to do is just provide Windham with an opportunity to go to a place that they can rest assured that, if it’s open, that there’s something going on,” Cianchette added.
While Cianchette plans to coordinate the venue operations, the food and music will be handled by other entities in what Cianchette describes as a “triumvirate.”
The kitchen will be run by Hunker Down, a new venture at Sugarloaf Mountain from Portland restauranteurs Jason Loring and Mike Fraser. Loring’s list of restaurants includes Nosh Kitchen Bar and Slab, and Fraser’s ventures include Bramhall and the Roma Cafe. The pair has previously teamed up on Big Jay’s Chicken Shack and the now-closed Rhum tiki bar.
Loring said he is “really excited” to be a part of the new restaurant in Windham and plans to provide a “Nosh experience at Erik’s Church.” He said he is bringing a former Nosh chef and similar food such as burgers and dusted fries — but also plans some new additions such as cast-iron pizzas and a possible lobster-flavored dust.
NEON Music Management, a company that helps connect New England venues with country acts from the region and from the Nashville area, will be in charge of the entertainment.
Contemporary country music fans might note the similarity between the planned venue and the name of country megastar Eric Church, but Cianchette says that similarity is coincidental.
“My father, back in the 80s in the Old Port called ‘Erik’s’ with a K. It’s my father’s name,” Cianchette said. “And he’s been a big inspiration to me all my life. And I wanted to pay homage to him — I wanted to figure out something that was going to kind of give a country charm to it.”
“He’s Protestant, and I’m Catholic, and he never goes to church. His idea of church is drinking, dancing and flirting. So that’s why we say this is his type of church,” he added.
Cianchette, who lives in Cumberland, is no stranger to building projects, having overseen the construction of the new Maine Department of Health and Human Services building near the Portland Jetport. His grandfather was also one of the founding brothers of Cianbro, a prominent Maine construction company.
He said he sees a good market in Windham for the venture and that he “wouldn’t do it in Portland because the city is “too saturated with restaurants.”
“I like Windham because I feel like there’s not enough food options, first off,” Cianchette said. “There’s a lot of blue collar and veteran and uniform personnel that live up this way. There’s obviously Saint Joseph’s (College) around the corner. And lord knows there’s a ton of summer traffic up here.”
Cianchette also said that his family has had a place on Sebago Lake in Windham for years and sees a relative lack of options on summer nights for people who want to go out but don’t want to travel up to Naples or down to Portland.
Plans for Erik’s Church have been in the works for about a year, Cianchette said, but the initial idea was to construct a new building on Angler’s Road in Windham. Those plans changed after the proposal encountered opposition from neighbors during the planning board process.
“I took my shellacking,” Cianchette said with a smile about the initial plans, which transitioned in October to the current location at the end of Sebago Plaza.
Cianchette said the Erik’s Church will initially be open five days a week from Wednesday to Sunday, but hopes business will be good enough to eventually open seven days a week.
While he wants Erick’s to be family-friendly, after a certain time on some evenings only those 21 and older will be admitted.
“We want anybody that’s 21 to 81 to come in here and have a good time,” Cianchette said, noting that a venue tagline will be “good times, bad dancing.”
Ciacnchette doesn’t expect parking to be an issue but said the business will also be encouraging customers to use ride-sharing services like Uber.
“We want people to be smart, responsible,” he said.
When the Windham Town Council unanimously approved the liquor license and permits for Erik’s Church last week, several officials welcomed the new business.
“Want to wish you the best of luck,” said Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman. “I like the idea of a country western restaurant.”
“I also want to wish you the best of luck. I think this town is going to reward you,” Councilor Jarrod Maxfield said. “If I’m not mistaken, I think not so long ago, you had another plan, and I want to thank you for sticking with the town.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Erik’s Church owner Ken Cianchette hopes to have the new country-themed restaurant and bar officially open in Windham sometime in April.