How a Design Agency Helped Make Portland, Maine, the Hippest Foodie Town in New England

Might & Main unpacks its work for the city's best eateries

PORTLAND, Maine—Over the past decade, this once-sleepy New England town has experienced a remarkable culinary boom that’s put it squarely on the map for foodies, with restaurants like Eventide, Central Provisions and Vinland bringing national renown to the city of fewer than 70,000 people.

And one design agency helped make it all happen.

Might & Main, a small shop on Fore Street in the heart of the Old Port, has developed the brand identities for more than a dozen food clients in town, including many of the hottest restaurants that have opened up in recent years.

Currently counting four full-time and five part-time designers, Might & Main got its big break into restaurants in 2012, when it developed the branding for Eventide, an oyster bar on Middle Street that was an instant sensation and remains one of the best restaurants in town—indeed, one of the best in the region. (Chefs Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor won the James Beard Award this year as the Northeast’s best chefs, following their third nomination.)

To Might & Main founding principals Sean Wilkinson and Arielle Walrath, the restaurant business was a category that always beckoned. Chefs are artists themselves, and restaurant branding can be its own highly creative and collaborative endeavor. Plus, it’s tangible—you work with window signs, menus, coasters and so on—in ways that so many design projects aren’t anymore.

“We like tangible stuff,” Wilkinson tells me one July afternoon at Hugo’s, a restaurant next door to Eventide that’s also owned by Wiley and Taylor, along with their general-manager partner Arlin Smith. (Eventide itself always has a line out the door in summer, and is a little too crowded today for interviews.)

“We like things printed on paper, and things pressed into pulp board and foils and signage, and people experiencing a three-dimensional world,” Wilkinson says. “Restaurants seemed like a really good place to try that.”

Eventide, as it turned out, was the perfect way in.

 

Eventide Oyster Company

Wilkinson was a happy-hour regular at Hugo’s in the early 2010s and got to know Smith, who often tended bar. When Smith, Wiley and Taylor hatched plans for Eventide, after acquiring the space next door, Wilkinson convinced them to pay attention to the branding of the place. (Wiley admits they were much more focused on the food and service, and “in our initial budgets, we didn’t even have money set aside for branding.”)

Soon, Eventide had a gorgeous brand identity courtesy of Might & Main. It combined nautical themes and old-time typography to evoke a feeling that’s both refined and relaxed—much like the modern image of Portland itself.

“What I love about that brand is that it’s pretty understated but unique in a lot of nice ways,” says Wilkinson. “Some of those ways became trendy over time—some of the channel letter shading and things like that. As that faded out of fashion, it’s nice to see the Eventide brand is sticking in there and feeling pretty timeless and simple and clean. My favorite part of it is that it feels successfully Portland-y. It feels humble but refined, and seems to hold up.”

“They talked about the word Eventide being the word for the golden hour, when the sun is setting,” Walrath says. “It was this idea of water and horizons and the passage of time. We knew that, being nautical, there were probably going to be some blues involved, and we wanted to reference the fishing and coastal docks, the working waterfront. … It’s light, it’s bright, it’s nautical, but it’s not treading on clichés, hopefully. Hopefully it feels a little bit purposeful.”