WATERVILLE — After more than 17 years working at Jorgensen’s Cafe downtown and performing every task in the popular eatery, Theresa Dunn has bought the business.

Dunn, who turns 40 Tuesday, said in an interview she couldn’t be more thrilled, particularly because she is taking over the cafe at an exciting time for Waterville as a new Colby College dormitory is being built nearby, the former Hains building is being renovated and construction of a boutique hotel is expected to start this year.

Dunn expects business to really pick up once 250 students, faculty and staff will be living in the $25 million Colby complex scheduled to open across the street in August next year. This summer, the former Hains building will be completed and offices will be occupied by CGI Group employees. Colby is investing more than $5 million in downtown.

“We get a lot of Colby students now,” Dunn said. “They love it here. They love our breakfast sandwiches.”

Dunn said she hopes all the new people living and working downtown will become regulars, too.

“I’m going to be a very well-known presence here,” she said. “I’m going to be working, but I’m also going to be out here with the customers. If they want to talk to me about anything, I’m happy to sit and chat. I’ve already been doing that.”

Dunn bought the cafe at 103 Main St. on Friday from Todd Robinson of California, who purchased it last year for his nephew, Joe Giardello, of Albion. Giardello worked at the business for several months but decided to leave. Dunn leases the building space from the family of Bill Arnold, who died earlier this year.

Dunn has worked for four Jorgensen owners, including business founder Jon Jorgensen, since she started working at the cafe in 2000. She had hoped to buy the business when it was for sale in the past, but that did not work out.

This time, it did work out, and she took over the reins Sunday.

“Seventeen and a half years I’ve been here and I’ve done it all,” Dunn said, while taking a short break at a bistro table Monday afternoon. “I make sandwiches, prep food in the morning, do customer service, pay the bills. I will be 40 tomorrow. Happy birthday to me.”

Jorgensen’s, which has eight employees, is known for its various Carrabassett Coffee flavors, sandwiches, homemade soups, salads, quiche and bakery items.

Regular patrons on Monday heaped praise on Dunn, who is more than just a businesswoman, they say. She knows customers by their first names, treats them like family and goes out of her way to make their experience at Jorgensen’s pleasant.

“I totally love her, but I’m prejudiced,” said Vern Miller, 91, of Fairfield. “She’s like a daughter to me.”

Miller has been coming to Jorgensen’s every day, all day, for 13 years, since his wife died. He became such a fixture that employees gave him his own table with a sign on the wall that says so. Dunn always gives him gifts on his birthday and Christmas.

“He gets balloons and he gets a birthday banner,” she said.

Karen Walker, 71, of Winslow, has been patronizing Jorgensen’s every day for nearly 20 years and has made a lot of friends there. A retired physical therapist, Walker said Dunn is a staple of Jorgensen’s.

“She’s part of the foundation of the business in my mind, and we all want to see that take off,” Walker said. “When she’s here, you get something done. I’m glad she’s now in charge and all of us regulars — and there are a lot of us — want Jorgensen’s under Theresa’s direction. We’re happy for it to be even better than it already is.”

Dunn and her husband, Todd, of China, have three children, Kelsie, 8; Austin, 15; and Megan, 19. Megan, a nursing student at University of Southern Maine who also is taking classes at Kennebec Valley Community College this summer, works as a certified nurse’s aide at Lakewood Continuing Care Center in Waterville in addition to working at Jorgensen’s.

“My mother has been the face of Jorgensen’s forever,” Megan Dunn said Monday between serving customers. “She’s been here 17 years. She knows everybody and everybody knows her. She has put her heart and soul into it. I’m glad to see my mom finally have it. She put her time — everything — into it. I’m excited to work with her every day. We’re here Monday through Friday. Seeing a smile on her face puts a smile on my face.”

Jon Jorgensen opened the cafe in 1990 as Jorgensen’s Gourmet Goods in a small storefront at 113 Main St., a couple of doors north of the current location. Jorgensen, then 23, was a Waterville High School and Colby College graduate. The business sold soup, freshly ground coffees, exotic jellies, herbal vinegars, fine cheeses and foreign and domestic wines.

Jorgensen had lived in San Francisco and fell in love with stores that carried such fare and decided to open his own business in Waterville.

By 1992, his store was doing so well that it outgrew 113 Main St. and was moved to a larger space a few doors south. He kept the smaller store and with help from his parents, David and Helene Jorgensen, it became a grocery shop stocking items such as pasta, bulk foods, freshly squeezed vegetables, fruit juices and the like.

The new store carried a greater variety of coffees and provided more tables for people to sit at and enjoy a sandwich. Eventually, it expanded into an adjacent room.

Later Jorgensen sold the cafe to Jeff and Abby Gordon, who then sold it in 2007 to Gordon’s aunt, Ginny Bolduc, and her husband, Steve. The Bolducs sold the business last year to Robinson, and Ginny Bolduc stayed on for a while to help manage it.

When Dunn started working at Jorgensen’s 17 years ago, she did so with no experience, but the Jorgensen family was wonderful and taught her a lot, she said.

“It was a little overwhelming at first, but the Jorgensens were awesome,” she said. “I can still hear them in my head if I’m doing something wrong. They were wonderful people. David still comes in and chats with people.”

Dunn, who declined to divulge the purchase price, doesn’t plan to make any big changes in the cafe but wants to bring back some of the old ways of doing things — and try to get the old-style bagels back, she said.

“I really just want to take bits and pieces of all of the previous owners — all of the good qualities — and make it my own,” she said.

Dunn said she loves the cafe and the business and is excited to start a new chapter.

“My favorite part,” she said, “is talking to customers. It’s always been my favorite part. I know people’s kids. I know where they go to school. I know where they work. I know when their grandmother dies — so, a lot of history.”

Dunn said Greenfield Investments LLC, a Robinson-owned company based in Nashua, New Hampshire, which purchased Jorgensen’s, was great to work for and with.

“They made this whole transition so easy and painless,” she said.

Jorgensen’s is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and delivers to businesses that place orders within a three- or four-mile radius, according to Dunn.

She said that in a week she plans to have a grand reopening and will randomly hand out surprises to customers throughout the day.

“It could be coffee, it could be a sandwich, it could be a gift certificate. I just want to thank everyone for their loyalty.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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