Wild Oats’ new location at Brunswick Landing can fit 200 people, double the capacity of its old space in downtown Brunswick. Photo courtesy of Marshall Shepherd

BRUNSWICK — Wild Oats Bakery and Café has moved to Brunswick Landing, site of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, laying to rest some fears owner Becky Shepherd had about leaving downtown Brunswick.

“We got mixed reactions when we announced it, but I feel like everyone has come around,” said Becky Shepherd. “The people who have come in so far have been very supportive.”

The bakery celebrated the opening of its new location with a ribbon-cutting on Friday.

Although Wild Oats moved out of downtown, Cory King, executive director of Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber, said it has established itself in a booming area of Brunswick.

“About 2,200 people are employed in the Landing and Wild Oats was the thing missing from the Landing,” said King. “Having Wild Oats there now gives people a place to grab coffee, a healthy lunch or have a business meeting.”

The town has seen rapid growth and development at Brunswick Landing, as well as the arrival of dozens of asylum seekers from Africa the previous summer.

“Moving to the Landing is a huge step for us after 30 years in business,” said Becky Shepherd. “There was a lot of concern about moving out of downtown, but I think we made the right choice. Not everyone thought of the Landing as Brunswick, but it is. I feel like we have this opportunity to build on the community we had.”

Wild Oats’ new location, seen here from above, is at 166 Admiral Fitch Ave. Photo courtesy of Marshall Shepherd

The new space at 166 Admiral Fitch Ave. is more than double the size of the cafe’s former location in the Tontine Mall on Maine Street in Brunswick. Although the café isn’t allowing in-house seating due to COVID-19 restrictions, eventually the business will seat over 200 people inside. The old location could fit up to 100 people, Becky Shepherd said.

“We’re loving all the space we have to work with because it makes our jobs much easier,” said Becky Shepherd. “Our old location was incredibly tight so we had to use every surface we could.”

Dave and Becky Shepherd opened Wild Oats at the Tontine Mall in 1991 as “Wild O.A.T.S.” (Original And Tasty Stuff), “with the intention of providing a central meeting place, where all would be welcome,” according to the website.

The business has grown substantially over the years, weathering downturns, such as the closure of the Navy base and the recession of 2008, while prospering through the upswings like a recent focus on “buying local” and the revival of downtowns, to become a local landmark of sorts.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maine in March, Becky Shepherd said business slowed to “a trickle,” forcing her to cut her staff of 60 down to five because that’s all she could fit safely in the kitchen.

“We had a skeletal staff then we eventually built our staff up to half,” she said. “Now that we’re in our new location, we’re hiring back up to our former self.”

Marshall Shepherd, Becky Shepherd’s son, said the new location is also more accessible for people of all ages, something he “didn’t realize we were lacking it until we moved into the new space.”

“A large part of our customers are the elderly and we’ve realized parking at the new location is much easier compared to our old location,” he said. “This location is much more family friendly as well. I’m the father of young children and it’s much easier to get a stroller in here compared to the old location, which didn’t have ramps.”

Wild Oats owner Becky Shepherd, prepares to cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the cafe’s new location. She is flanked by Deb King (L), head of Brunswick Downtown Association, and John Eldridge, Brunswick town manager. Photo courtesy of Marshall Shepherd

King said he isn’t concerned about Wild Oats’ previous location because he suspects that storefront will “fill right back up because downtown Brunswick is a place where people want to be.”

Daniel Catlin, owner of the Tontine Mall and CEO of Commercial Properties, Inc., said the company has “received interest from several businesses with similar offerings, comparable to Wild Oats’ bakery and luncheon mainstays” but didn’t name what those businesses are.

“We are confident that we will find a suitable tenant to replace Wild Oats’ business in the coming weeks,” Catlin said in an email.

“Becky and David Shepherd have been longtime tenants at the Tontine, and over the 30 years we have worked together, Wild Oats had become a centerpiece and anchor of the Maine St. Brunswick atmosphere,” he added. “While we are sad to see them leave, we wish Wild Oats all the best and hope for their success in the future as their business expands at their new location at the former naval air station.”

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