Known for its modern aesthetic and innovative cuisine, Solo Bistro is closing after 13 years in Bath. Courtesy Photo

BATH — Thirteen years ago, Pia and Will Neilson opened Solo Bistro after purchasing the building on Front Street. After Labor Day, if a buyer for the building isn’t found, it will close its doors for the last time.

The husband-and-wife team never planned to be restaurateurs. They purchased the building just before the Front Street Deli left the space. “We had an empty restaurant on our hands. We spent a year trying to get someone else to open a nice restaurant,” said Will. The pair decided to set out on their own and create a restaurant themselves.

“In retrospect, it was a moment of some hubris” he said with good humor.

While today Bath boasts plenty of restaurants, 13 years ago “farm-to-table” was barely a buzzword for most in Maine, and not the cultural mainstay it is today.

“I think the legacy is we helped sort of transition from a place where, at least in the restaurant business, there really wasn’t anything quite like us,” said Will. “I think 13 years ago, there wasn’t a restaurant of the ‘farm to table’ segment here. I don’t think anybody thought there could be.”

Despite not having a background in the food service industry, the Neilsons managed to put their small restaurant on the map. Solo Bistro still regularly features on “Best of Maine” lists, and they’ve won awards for their cuisine. “I’m really proud of what a good restaurant it has become. We’ve become generally recognized as one of the better restaurants in the state,” said Will.

These days, Maine is a foodie destination, with Portland ranking as one of the best places in the world for a culinary experience given its incredible restaurant density. When Solo Bistro started, many of the restaurants making headlines today didn’t even exist, and it can be considered part of the genesis of Maine as a food destination.

The Neilsons say their current life situation means it’s the right time to step away. “For us, our kids are grown up now, there’s a different calculus personally for us, and from a business point of view it’s a good time to go,” he said. “It’s the right time personally, it’s the right time business wise, we will go on to other projects in our lives.”

The hardest part about leaving is having to let go their staff. “We’ve built a great team, a really strong team both in the back and the front of the house. We don’t want to leave them in the lurch, but with an expanding restaurant scene in Bath there’s going to be a lot of good opportunities,” he said.

He expects someone will likely take up the mantle and establish a new restaurant in the space, especially given the recent growth Bath has seen. “I think Bath is pretty well positioned for the future. We’re trying to choose our moment, as anybody does.”