Cole Farms, from 1956 to 2019. Left: photo courtesy of the Gray Historical Society. Right: Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

GRAY — Customers have flocked to Cole Farms for one last visit and to share their favorite memories after the restaurant announced last week that it would be closing its doors on Jan. 13 after 68 years in business.

On display in the restaurant is an original booth from 1952. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

We’re so much busier now (since announcing the closing) than before,” employee Lily Wilson said Monday.

The restaurant closed temporarily in 2019 in an attempt to “reinvent” itself, according to owner Bradley Pollard. The project, aimed at attracting a younger crowd, included renovating the interior, redesigning the kitchen and adding a brick pizza oven.

Wilson said the renovation helped the business, adding, “I think if we hadn’t renovated we would have closed a year ago.” 

Unfortunately, as Pollard wrote in a press release announcing the closing, “We had a formula for Cole Farms that worked for many years, but it’s become increasingly more difficult in the last few years to continue that success. It’s been hard to weather recent changes and we can no longer operate Cole Farms like we have in the past.”

Melissa Laverdiere of Auburn visited the restaurant for lunch on Monday and said she wished it had not been remodeled “because they took a lot of their stuff off their menu that were their staples.”

Staples included baked beans, homemade pies and other comfort food, including an open-faced hot chicken sandwich and clam cakes. 

Cole Farms in an undated photograph. Photo courtesy of the Gray Historical Society

She had been coming to Cole Farms for years and said she was “definitely sad to see it go.”

Cole Farms’ post on its Facebook page announcing its closing garnered over 800 comments, many of them from residents sharing beloved memories at the restaurant, from first dates to meals marking the end of family vacations.

 Jane Merrill-Emery of Noblesville, Indiana, met her husband there on a blind date in 1997. 

The waitress recognized that we were just meeting and kind of kept an eye on us and smiled letting me know she approved! We have now been married going on 23 years,” she wrote on Facebook. 

Betty Cunningham Norberg wrote on Facebook that “Many of our family gatherings were there. All food was/is good, but the pies were/are the BEST! Thank you for the good food and the memories!”

Our family has been summering near Gray for decades. We discovered Cole Farms in the 80s and have been loyal patrons since,” Margaret O’Connell of Massachusetts wrote in an email to the American Journal/Lakes Region Weekly. “In fact, the only way we could get our kids to go home at the end of vacation was to bribe them with a trip to Cole Farms – Indian Pudding, jellybeans and a ride on the swings!”

As a little kid in the 50s, I remember the fried chicken basket was magical,” Pennie McVicker wrote on Facebook. “They will be missed.”

“A lot of people are disappointed. Obviously, I am too. I love it here,” Wilson said.

Pollard said he would like to sell the 22,000-square-foot building, adding, “I would like to see something come in here. It’s got the potential for something.” 

He declined to comment further.

“Times have changed a little bit,” Wilson said. “It’s hard, especially in today’s world, to keep a business that’s based on tradition going.”

Cole Farms first opened its doors in 1952. Photo courtesy of Bradley Pollard

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