BRUNSWICK – With a location just off the end of the main runway at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, it would seem Ken Burton’s Fat Boy Drive-In is strategically located to cash in on the Great State of Maine Air Show every August.

“Not really,” Burton said, noting that his drive-in restaurant is packed during the three days the show runs — but it’s filled with people standing in the parking lot, gawking at the stunt planes and Air Force Thunderbird jets. They’re just not that interested in the restaurant’s famous Canadian bacon cheeseburgers and onion rings served up by carhops.

“Some of them get something, some of them don’t,” Burton said Thursday afternoon after climbing down from the roof of the restaurant where he had an unobstructed view of a Thunderbirds’ practice run.

That’s where he’ll be for the actual shows on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, too — Burton locks up the restaurant and clambers up a ladder to the roof with the carhops during the prime acts of the air show because no one’s going to be ordering food with jets roaring a few hundred feet overhead.

The show still draws a crowd — more than 30,000 tickets were sold last year, despite being shortened by a day due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene. But that’s well down from 150,000 in 2008, the last year before the Navy started to shut down the base and turn it over to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which has renamed the former base Brunswick Landing.

Back when the show was put on by the Navy, it was free, but MRRA has to charge for tickets to pay for the acts and amenities — like dozens of porta-potties — said Steve Levesque, executive director for the authority.

Even the Thunderbirds come with a bill, since MRRA has to cover the difference between what the Navy pays for jet fuel and what it costs at Brunswick Landing.

Tickets run from $5 in advance for the Friday night show to $99 at the gate for reserved seating in the “Chairman’s Chalet” Sunday. The overall budget for the event is nearly $800,000, Levesque said, and if ticket sales hold up, MRRA will turn a small profit and also boost local non-profits and charities.

He said charities get the parking revenue — about $20,000 last year — and non-profits who provide volunteers to help run the concession stands get a share of the sales, or about $25,000 in 2011.

The air show turned a $100,000 profit last year, he said, because MRRA bought rain insurance and cashed in on the policy due to the hurricane.

Levesque said MRRA wants the show to continue, partly because it provides a showcase for the re-use of the base under MRRA and partly because it’s a prime end-of-summer event for many families.

“It’s been a long Maine tradition to have the air show at this facility,” Levesque said. “We’re really trying to recognize that.”

Of course, MRRA wouldn’t be doing its job without hoping that air show patrons recognize “this place is open for business,” he added.

Levesque said the show is also good for Brunswick Landing’s neighbors — MRRA booked nearly 600 nearby hotel rooms for pilots and crews and hired local restaurants to cater events.

One of those is The Great Impasta, a Brunswick restaurant which is providing dinner for the 15-member crew for Friday night’s fireworks, said Alisa Coffin, owner of the Maine Street eatery.

“We are thrilled to have all these folks in town,” said Coffin, who said her restaurant only sees “a little bit of a bump” in business from those attending the air show.

Burton said he thinks that’s because most of those going to the air show see it as an all-day event, touring the parked airplanes before the flying begins. After the show ends, he said, most are more interested in getting out of the traffic than stopping for something else to eat.

But that’s OK with him.

He said he’s enjoyed the air show for the 28 years he’s owned the business and doesn’t begrudge those who want to share his free vantage point.

One year, he thought of instituting a policy of requiring those who drive in to his restaurant to actually buy something. But it created more of hassle than it was worth, he said, and he went back to putting up with non-buyers the next year.

“I can take if for three days,” he said.


Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]


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