The new year isn’t going so well.

Internationally, Iran is causing waves of worry and fear. Domestically, impeachment looms and stocks teeter as investors contemplate current events.

And, here in southern Maine, Cole Farms Restaurant in Gray is closing. What? Why?

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

I understand Trump’s targeting of a man who has caused so much bloodshed in the Middle East. I also understand why investors are worried. But I can’t understand why Cole Farms is going under. And I don’t want to believe it.

But, then again, the first stage of grief is denial. And, as a longtime diner at Cole Farms, I’m feeling it – as are the multitudes who have eaten many a scrumptious meal at one of the state’s best family restaurants.

Owner Brad Pollard said Cole Farms, which closes Jan. 13, has been losing diners to fancier restaurants and to chains such as Applebee’s. Score one for Big Corporate as another independent goes out of business.


I had no clue Cole Farms was struggling or that recent renovations were an attempt to right the ship. Pollard said he introduced a bar, bakery and hired musical entertainment to save the restaurant. But none of those attempts at reinvention worked, he wrote in a notice to customers on the restaurant’s website.

He blamed a generational shift away from such family dining venues as Cole Farms, saying local young people weren’t coming to the restaurant after ball games, dances and the like as they previously had. Also, millennials and their high-brow taste buds eschew comfort food and prefer the avant-garde Portland culinary scene.

He might be right, but I wonder if all the recent changes upset the restaurant’s winning formula, especially for older patrons. I can’t speak for all diners, but I know I and my brother liked the old-timey atmosphere that existed before the changes took place.

I especially liked the horseshoe-shaped counter, which, sadly, was removed during renovations. Nothing welcomes lone or casual diners just looking for a decent meal like a counter.

I also wonder if introducing a full bar was a smart move for a self-described family restaurant. I thought it was strange that Cole Farms would embrace the bar scene, which turns off families.

I also wonder if liberal state fiscal policy quickened the demise by hiking the minimum wage, forcing small employers like Cole Farms to raise prices to provide employees more “liveable” wages. Thanks, Augusta, for sinking yet another once-thriving Maine business.


Whatever forces caused Cole Farms’ downfall, the community will suffer. The Pollard family made a name for itself and the community of Gray with six decades of success. Gray has pizza places, ethnic restaurants and McDonald’s, but nothing like Cole Farms exists for miles around.

Generations of hikers, skiers and folks “from away” headed up to camp would exit the turnpike in Gray and stop at Cole Farms to fuel their long journeys. Locals would go to Cole Farms to celebrate special occasions and get good food at reasonable prices. Some would go every night, sit at the counter and commiserate with fellow regulars. It was their community.

Patrons also went there because of the wait staff. Pollard said Cole Farms employed thousands through the years and it was Gray’s largest employer. Diners enjoyed watching friendly waitresses and busboys dart to and fro, keeping up with the frenzied orders for food and drink.

The Pollard family’s loss is also the wider community’s loss, no matter how you cut it – just like a piece of my favorite Cole Farms now-gone-forever coconut cream pie.

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