To extend outdoor dining through the winter, ‘bubbles’ keep patrons cozy

These igloo-like structures have popped up at Erik's Church in Windham and Mast Landing Brewery Company in Westbrook, where patrons can stay "warm and safe" while dining.

A group of friends dine in a “bubble” at Erik’s Church in Windham. Owner Kenny Cianchette has dubbed the outdoor experience “Santa’s Pub.” Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

WINDHAM — Dining “bubble tents” – clear plastic, igloo-like tents – are popping up at restaurants as a way to keep diners safe and cozy as temperatures drop. Erik’s Church in Windham and Mast Landing Brewing Company in Westbrook are two of the latest restaurants to offer this winter-friendly outdoor option.

“We’re just adjusting on the fly as the CDC has been reopening and reclosing, for lack of a better word,” said Erik’s Church owner Kenny Cianchette in an interview last week.

Gov. Janet Mills announced Nov. 1 that the limit on indoor gatherings would be rolled back to 50 people and outdoor dining remains at a 100-person maximum. On Dec. 4, the state extended the 9 p.m. curfew for all seated dining through Jan. 3.

-The igloos at Mast Landing Brewing Company in Westbrook seat up to eight people and are equipped with a heat and air filtration system. Chance Viles / American Journal

The “Santa’s Pub” experience at Erik’s Church was up and running on Dec. 1 and for a $40 reservation fee a group of eight can book an igloo from 5 p.m. until closing at the restaurant at 824 Roosevelt Trail, Windham.

Mast Landing at 920 Main St., Westbrook, finished constructing their nine igloos this week, said Vice President of Brand Strategy Parker Olen.

“We added the igloos for customers to still enjoy our beer and food this winter while staying warm and safe with their family or groups they are already comfortable being indoors with,” Olen said.

The project will end up costing Cianchette about $10,000, he said, but the outdoor operation is helping him make up for the losses indoors, which has a typical 237-person capacity. The igloos are already about 65% booked through the end of the year and he recently added brunch reservations on the weekends.

Still, revenues are down by about 40% compared to last year.

-Erik’s Church owner Kenny Cianchette, dressed as Santa, greets patrons. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

According to the Portland Press Herald’s database of Paycheck Protection Program recipients, Mast Landing received a $225,300 loan. There was no information on Erik’s Church.

Hospitality Maine Executive Director Steve Hewins said that these types of outdoor dining structures are “costly and have their own set of restrictions” and have not been widely adopted.