LYNN — The Porthole Restaurant, the legendary eating place on the Lynnway, is set to dish its last plate of fried pickles, haddock Rockefeller, and prime rib.
“It’s been a beautiful run, but the time has come,” said Robert Gaudet, as he choked back tears. “I’m tired, I just want to relax.”
On Thursday, the 69-year-old owner sold the restaurant and the 50,460-square-foot waterfront lot to Patrick McGrath for $1.4 million.
The developer and owner of the Lynnway Mart Indoor Mall & Flea Market, said he plans to demolish the pub and build 55 luxury condominiums that will offer sweeping ocean and city views. While details have not been finalized, McGrath said the steel and glass complex will include underground parking and an outdoor swimming pool. The 1,300-square foot two-bedroom condos are expected to be priced from $600,000 to $1 million. A groundbreaking could happen in late 2019, he said.
Gaudet, a Nahant native, said he’s not sure when the Porthole will close, but expects it will be in the next few months.
“I don’t have it all figured out yet,” he said. “I am so emotionally drained and have not been able to sleep for weeks because of the pressure of knowing it will change the lives of my 60 employees.”
The Porthole’s history commenced in 1967, when his brother, Jay, bought the Blue Dolphin at Washington Street and the Lynnway for $32,000 and changed the name to the Porthole.
A few years later, the family expanded the restaurant when they bought the building next door.
“The nautical-themed restaurant was cute, but on a windy day it could have blown away,” Gaudet said.
It was taken by eminent domain in the late 1970s to make way for North Shore Community College and they moved to their current spot on the water in 1981.
Among Gaudet’s many memories include hundreds of couples who met at his pub, dated, and got married.
“I’ll be somewhere and when I mention the Porthole they’ll say ‘I met my husband or wife there,'” he said.
Over the years, developers have offered to buy the waterfront parcel. There were pitches from a hotel operator and restaurateurs, but McGrath seemed to be the best choice, he said.
“In some ways, I didn’t want to sell, but it was inevitable because running a restaurant is a hard clock to wind,” he said. “I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing that.”
Gaudet called the restaurant business a funny industry.
“If business is very good, you’re afraid to take time off, and if business is slow, you’re afraid to take time off. So you’re basically afraid of everything.”
He may have accidentally invented fried pickles. Gaudet recalled getting a large shipment of the wrong kind of pickles. While waiting for them to be returned, he attended a 25th anniversary party and one of the hors d’oeuvre was fried zucchini.
“The next morning, I battered the pickles and fried them,” he said. “The rest is history.”
On retirement, the Nahant native said he’s not sure what he will do.
“I could do a 100 things,” he said. “I’ll figure it out.”
Starting Tuesday, the Porthole will be open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch only and for all scheduled functions through June. Gaudet suggests customers redeem their gift cards.