Fat Boy Drive-In closed for the season after Labor Day 2019. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Fat Boy Drive-In is under new ownership after almost a year and a half on the market. 

“The time has come to pass the Fat Boy Drive-In on to new owners,” long time owners Ken and Jeanne Burton wrote in a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page Saturday. “We, the Burton family, are so very grateful for all the memories, the love and support from all the local customers and the many employees we call our family.” 

Ken and Jeanne Burton have run the Brunswick landmark 36 years, taking over for Ken’s father. The Burtons’ children and grandchildren also have worked there, but with Ken and Jeanne’s retirement, the time came to pass the torch. 

Mike Jerome, a local restaurateur, was more than happy to take over the helm. 

Jerome and Joe O’Neal co-own Brunswick’s Portland Pie Co. and Bolos Kitchen Cantina and Candlepin downtown, but Jerome said Monday that Fat Boy will be a solo venture. 

The spot is “an iconic piece of Brunswick’s history,” he said, and living in town for the past 14 years, he has seen how many people look forward to its opening each year. 

Jerome was interested in the restaurant when it first went up for sale in December 2018, but at the time he was just a few weeks away from opening Bolos, a half bowling alley, half Tex-Mex cantina, in the old Bowling Bowl on Dunlap Street. 

When another year came and went and the spot was still for sale, Jerome said it felt like the right time for a new venture. The sale was finalized last Wednesday.

Every spring, Fat Boy’s opening day is an event in itself, with customers making the trip from all over. Jerome hopes to open for business next Thursday if everything goes according to plan. 

With the global COVID-19 pandemic and local and state stay-at-home orders prohibiting dine-in eating, he said it is the perfect time for a drive-in diner like Fat Boy. 

“You can buy takeout from your favorite restaurant and eat it in your car in the parking lot, but it’s not the same,” he said. But with Fat Boy, a restaurant designed exactly for that purpose, reopening can offer “some normalcy and some excitement … sitting in the safety of their car, just like they have for 65 years.” 

Plus, he said, it will be a good way to kick off the summer after a long and turbulent few months.

Jerome plans to open with a limited menu to start so as not to overwhelm the kitchen staff and to limit the number of people inside the small space, allowing for proper physical distancing. He said all the favorites will still be offered. Customers can still get their BLTs, frappes, onion rings and lobster rolls. 

“The biggest change we’ll make this year is that we’ll accept credit cards,” he said, adding that given the concerns over coronavirus, it makes sense not to be dealing with cash. Employees, many of whom will be returning this year, will wear gloves and masks. 

To start, the restaurant will operate 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Monday and will close Tuesday and Wednesday. 

“I’m excited to help continue that legacy,” he said. 

Fat Boy first opened in 1955 when drive-in diners were in their heyday, and owners have been serving up burgers, BLTs, onion rings and nostalgia ever since. 

John and Pauline Bollinger and Joe and Jennie Burton ran Fat Boy every afternoon, seven days a week from March through October for 20 years until Bollinger passed away in 1978, according to the website. 

Current owners Ken and Jeanne Burton purchased it from Ken’s father, Joseph Burton just a few years later in the mid-1980s and have changed very little in the last 35 years. 

Burton worked at his father’s restaurant in high school and then off and on in his adult life before he and his wife ultimately bought it. Their two children and five grandchildren have all been Fat Boy employees, making it a true family affair for generations. 

But after more than 30 years and working “24 hours a day,” he and his family are “all burnt out” and it is time to move on, Ken Burton said when the “for sale” sign first went up.

When the Brunswick landmark was listed as for-sale in December 2018, listing agent Victor Tedford said he was receiving dozens of calls each day from people interested in purchasing the restaurant. 

Listed at $1.15 million, Tedford, an agent with Magnusson and Balfour, said the price included the business and a number of tangible and intangible amenities like decades worth of loyal customers. 

The months went by, and the Burtons said that despite a few offers early on that “weren’t what we expected,” activity had since died down. 

The family is ready to hand over the reins and let someone breathe new life into the restaurant, maybe even “bring it into the 21st century,” Jamie Alexander, the Burton’s daughter said, but they wanted to make sure it goes to the right person. 

“We care about it,” Alexander said. “We don’t want it to be just some Joe Schmo. We want our customers to keep coming back.” 

Tedford said that ideally, the new owner will be someone “motivated and energetic,” who is looking to keep up the traditions that have made Fat Boy “successful for decades.” 

Jerome fit the bill, Ken and Jeanne Burton agreed.

“We wanted somebody from the area who knew something about the business and would run it the same way,” Ken Burton said. 

Plus, Jeanne Burton agreed, he was very excited about the restaurant, which made them excited. 

Still, it can be hard to say goodbye. 

“We have mixed feelings of course,” Jeanne Burton said. “We’ve had the business for so long, it’s like a part of you.”

When it opens back up, Ken Burton will be there to answer any questions, he said, but “I’d like to sit out there and order, have that experience being a customer.” 

“We’re going to miss it,” he added, “but it’s time to move on and retire.” 

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