Renee Bernier, owner of the Cockpit Cafe at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport, stands behind her counter on Thursday. The City Council on Tuesday will vote whether to reject her proposal for renewal of her  restaurant lease at the city-owned building. A council subcommittee is recommending rejection of the proposal. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

Renee Bernier, owner of the Cockpit Cafe at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport, stands behind her counter on Thursday. The City Council on Tuesday will vote whether to reject her proposal for renewal of her restaurant lease at the city-owned building. A council subcommittee is recommending rejection of the proposal. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD — Disagreement between the city and the owner of a popular breakfast and lunch business on the terms of a proposed new lease could lead to the closure of the Cockpit Cafe at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport sometime in the new year.

The Sanford City Council will decide on Tuesday whether to reject a second proposal from Cockpit Cafe owner Renee Bernier for a new lease in the wing of the the city-owned building which houses the restaurant.

Her current 10-year lease is up Dec. 31. The City Council rejected her first response to its request for proposals last month and voted for a month-to-month lease, with 60 days notice on either party’s part, starting Jan. 1. The council then authorized a second request for proposals, with Bernier’s emerging as the sole contender.

But the two entities can’t seem to agree, though Bernier told the Journal Tribune on Thusrday she is willing to comply with some of what the city wants.

Bernier, who has been associated with the business for 27 years and its owner since 2003, said she knows what works and what doesn’t. Always a cash business, she said she is willing to start accepting debit and credit cards and to expand hours as proposed by the city, even though she believes it won’t mean more patrons — just  the same number spread over more hours.

“I can try the extended hours, but I know it’s not profitable,” Bernier said from a table  beneath an array of military uniforms and photos of pilots and their planes at the aircraft and World War II military-themed venue.

The restaurant is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday. The city’s proposal requires two extra hours each weekend day to accommodate weekend pilots.

The proposal by the city called for seasonal service on an outside patio. Bernier said it is her understanding that the patio was constructed as a public venue by the fixed base operator that operates in another wing. If she were to offer full service there, she said, it would no longer be available to the general public. She said some of her  take-out patrons use the public patio to consume their meals. City Manager Steve Buck said the city owns the patio.

According to the proposed agreement provided by the city, there are other differences, including which entity would be responsible for some utilities and the like, plus a change in how the restaurant pays for the space it leases. According to the proposal provided by the city, Bernier would pay a square foot cost for the restaurant space, a lesser square footage rate for storage and the patio, plus two percent of the gross revenue at a certain level and 1 percent thereafter. 

“(The airport manager) wants access to my records every month; she’s my landlord, not my accountant,” said Bernier, who rejected that portion of the proposal.

Buck said others leasing space at the airport are required to pay a percentage of their gross revenue. His calculations show that including the percentage of the gross, the rent would work out to about $1,900 more annually — the first adjustment in nine years.

Bernier said the city has $50,000 in capital improvements earmarked to make renovations to the restaurant and she is looking for a larger hood in the kitchen and other changes to improve ventilation, new floors in the dining area and more.

Buck said the city has tried  to work with Bernier, and has similar ideas for renovations. He said Bernier didn’t attend a meeting with city officials to discuss renovations and other matters. 

Bernier said she feels the city has to back off on its demands. She said she knows she is emotional about the situation — which she said was noted at the subcommittee meeting —  but that she cares about her employees, vendors and customers.

“I feel whatever has been working (here) is working,” she said of her business. “Three generations of families come here for a reason. I feel they are asking way too much for a little business. I feel like I am being ridiculed because I let my emotions get involved, but if I weren’t who I am, would I be here for 30 years?”

Bernier employs 7 to 11 full- and part-time employees in the winter season and 13 to 15 in the summer.

She said city officials want her to serve dinner and had mentioned a beer and wine license. Bernier said she’s tried serving dinner twice before and found it was not profitable. Buck said those were ideas, not requirements of the RFP.

Bernier’s latest submission was unchanged from her original, Buck said Thursday. He said while she indicated to the council’s subcommittee at their Tuesday meeting that she would be willing to go along with some changes, she seemed to pull back by the end of the meeting. The property subcommittee, made up of two councilors, the mayor and city staff, agreed to recommend  the council reject her second proposal.

“I understand what the city wants but it honestly and truly does not work financially,” said Bernier. “I feel I pay a fair share. I do the best job I can possibly do and I am not getting that feeling from the city of Sanford.”

Buck said the public will have to decide whether what the city has been asking for is too much.

The city manager said if the council votes for rejection of Bernier’s proposal Tuesday, he will at some point in the new year issue the required 60-day notice of termination of the lease. 

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]


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