First, the French Press Eatery in Westbrook had a grand re-opening to celebrate a major expansion. Three days later, lacking money to go on, the 55-seat restaurant closed.
On Tuesday, the eatery will open once again at 8 a.m.
James Tranchemontagne, co-owner of the French Press Eatery and the nearby Frog and Turtle restaurant, understands that the situation may be confusing to customers. But he hopes they understand that his expertise is working with good eats, not spreadsheets.
“We’re chefs,” he said. “We swing knives and cook good food.”
Why the sudden turnaround? Ever since the story of the French Press’ financial plight appeared in local newspapers, bankers and customers with business know-how have been coming forward to help.
Tranchemontagne and his co-owners — his wife, Heidi, and his younger brother, Andre Tranchemontagne — have been inundated with ideas for how they can keep operating the cafe on Main Street and keep making their popular homemade doughnuts.
“It’s been a whirlwind of a week, just talking with our banks and talking to customers who have their MBAs and who have just come and offered us some advice, who are a little bit older and wiser and told us things we didn’t know we could do,” Tranchemontagne said. “It’s actually been kind of neat and interesting.”
Another thing he has learned is that it’s a lot better to have some money coming in than none at all. So he’s going to restructure the eatery and get back to the basics, serving only breakfast and lunch — at least for the first month or so.
The French Press Eatery’s recent $130,000 expansion included a bar and a brand-new computer system that would help start a dinner service. Tranchemontagne said he hopes to get back to serving dinners by about Oct. 1.
“The next thing is just to look for somebody who’s an investor, who can take over some of the paperwork aspects of it and let me get back into more and more cooking, the menu development, the concept development,” he said. “Obviously, that’s where my heart and soul lie.”
Ironically, Tranchemontagne is known for having more business sense than many chefs. His general philosophy is never to spend more than he makes, and to pay all of his bills on time. He was one of the first restaurateurs in the Portland area to master the art of marketing his restaurants through social networking websites.
Tranchemontagne’s big concern now is that his customers will think this has all been some kind of publicity stunt.
“Our biggest thing now is, we just come out of it looking stupid,” he said.
“We’re chefs,” he added, laughing. “We’re kind of used to looking stupid.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]