Brant Dadaleares doesn’t ask people he hires if they have a problem with alcohol and drugs. The owner of Gross Confection Bar in Portland’s Old Port offers a very specific piece of advice instead. “Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes because I’ve done it all,” he says.
Dadaleares grew up in the industry. He made his bones at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier Vermont where, he says, he was asked to leave “because I was a drunk and they’d had enough of me.” Raised by alcoholics partly in South Portland, partly in Brunswick, Dadaleares, who recently turned 49, sought relief in alcohol at an extremely young age. Somehow, he powered through both middle school and high school, got to culinary school and landed, barely in his twenties, in the blistering heat of the restaurant world.
Not just any restaurant world, though. Portland was in the process of transforming itself when Dadaleares got his first job at the much-celebrated Fore Street.
Improbably for such a small town, Portland was developing approaches to food that would rival those of cities like Seattle and San Francisco and snag Bon Appetit’s coveted Best In The Country award in 2019. The pressures were nearly unsustainable, the drugs abundant, the alcohol even more so. Yet despite ever-rising consumption levels, Dadaleares was only confronted twice during the course of a long and successful career. The second time, he says, “I’d fallen so badly that I ripped the whole side of my face open.” It was February 10, 2014. The next day, he heard the doorbell ring. Standing there the two people closest to him: his ex boyfriend and his current one. “If you choose to keep drinking, neither of us will be in your life,” they told him.
That was the turning point
Dadaleares had two drunk driving convictions by then and the state of Maine had imposed counseling for alcohol and drugs. Dadaleares started paying attention. He’d been complaining about the sorry state of desserts in Portland. One day, during a counseling session, he singled out someone who had achieved a level of success with what Dadaleares considered to be third rate stuff. “Well, at least he’s doing it,” remarked his counselor, Steve Danzig. “I will never forget that day,” says Dadaleares.
He sat down and wrote a business plan for a dessert bar. He cooked up ideas. He refined them. He reached out to people. He organized pop-up events that inevitably sold out and spread his reputation around town. Once that was done, he found a local bank that, he says, “believed in me totally.” Finally, he put together the mother of all Kickstarters.
He made a thirty-foot-long dessert. He armed people with spoons and filmed them as they pressed in one after the other and demolished his gorgeous creation. Finally, he put it all online. The result? Donations from as far away as California, from people, he says, “I will never see,” in the amount of $35,000 dollars.
Gross Confection Bar, the only dessert bar in Portland, celebrated its first anniversary on January 4th this year. He says, “I reflect a lot on what happened to me while I drank, how much it ruined me. Now I don’t even think about booze.” But, he adds with a smile, “If you take my coffee away, I will kill you.”