March 10, 2010

O'Naturals crunched by drop in sales

By BETH QUIMBY Staff Writer

— By BETH QUIMBY

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The chief executive officer of O'Naturals said he is closing the 83 Exchange St. restaurant in the Old Port because of poor sales.

''We were not doing well through the entire fall and winter, and I was really hoping that with the summer coming, business would rejuvenate,'' said Mac McCabe, co-founder of the company.

But it didn't, and now the restaurant will close July 25. McCabe said the business fell victim to changing eating habits because of the economic recession, bad weather and the closing of The Movies on Exchange and other Old Port businesses that would draw diners into his restaurant at night.

For much of the past decade, O'Naturals found a niche in the crowded Portland dining scene by offering organic, natural quick-serve food. The restaurant was known for its support of local environmental groups and was honored by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for being environmentally friendly.

The closing surprised some of the owners of other Old Port eateries, including Jeff Buerhaus, the chief and owner of Walter's at 15 Exchange St.

''I thought they had their own nook,'' said Buerhaus, who opened his restaurant five years ago.

Buerhaus said competition is growing fierce in the Old Port, with new restaurants opening regularly. The three short blocks of Exchange Street alone are home to nine restaurants and coffee shops.

The Portland location of O'Naturals opened in 2002, the second in a series of O'Naturals established by McCabe and his partners, including Gary Hirshberg, chief executive of the Stonyfield Farm yogurt company in New Hampshire. O'Naturals has franchises in Kansas and Florida and teamed up earlier this year with The Compass Group, a cafeteria services company, to open kiosks at Hannaford supermarkets and other locations.

The original O'Naturals opened in 2001 at The Shops plaza in Falmouth Village on Route 1. McCabe said the Falmouth restaurant is doing well. He said he hopes to offer jobs in Falmouth to some of the dozen workers at the Portland restaurant.

McCabe said the decision to close was a difficult one.

''Believe me, it pains me beyond words. The food statement we are making is critically important,'' he said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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