Don’s Lunch needs a new place to park

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Craig Bernier, owner of Don's Lunch, is looking for a new location for his business and is hoping to stay in Westbrook. 

WESTBROOK — The longtime Westbrook staple Don’s Lunch is in need of a new place to set up shop.

Don’s Lunch, a semi-mobile food truck, closed Tuesday after its lease ended at Friendly Gas, located at 925 Main St. The lease was not extended after a disagreement over rent.

Craig Bernier, the owner of Don’s Lunch, said he’s approached multiple businesses in the city about relocating in their parking lots, but none have agreed. He said many places don’t have the space to accommodate his large yellow and red van.

“When you have a business you have adequate parking,” Bernier said. “You don’t have extra.”

Don’s Lunch, known for its hamburgers and hot dogs, was opened in Westbrook in 1976 by Don and Yvonne Richards, who owned it for around 25 years. It was then sold to Bill and Nancy Bombard, who operated it before leasing it out to other operators. Bernier, of Westbrook, bought it in April 2015 and reopened the refurbished van in December 2015.

The van, which doesn’t roll out at the end of each day, has been stationed in various Westbrook locations over the years, including Cavallaro’s Auto Repair, Bernie’s Auto and Friendly Gas. Bernier said he’s looking for a new location on a main road with good visibility.

“Location is key,” he said. “If you have easy access people are more likely to come.”

Bernier said he’s been in discussion with a few different businesses about the potential to locate Don’s there, and he’s hoping one of them pans out. He said he needs to be in a location that includes access to a kitchen so he can wash dishes and supplies.

“I understand there aren’t that many places that fit that mold,” he said.

Bernier said he has considered locating Don’s Lunch in a stand-alone parking lot, but that would require bringing home the dishes at the end of each night. That’s difficult, he said, especially if an employee is running the truck that day.

The city considered helping Bernier secure a location, but the City Council decided against doing so. Bernier asked city administrators if he could park at a vacant city-owned property on Mechanic Street that was formerly used to store public safety vehicles. The council, in a workshop on Oct. 23, decided against it because customers would have to park across the street to access Don’s.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant had been in favor of the proposal. In a memo to the City Council sent out prior to the workshop, he said the idea was worth considering.

“It would provide a daily presence at an otherwise vacant building, would at least temporarily address the needs of an established local business and would generate modest revenue for the city,” Bryant wrote.

Safe access became an issue, though, which Bernier said he understands. If people can’t easily park near Don’s Lunch, they’re less likely to come.

“When you only have half an hour for lunch you want to grab your food and go,” he said.

Once Bernier does find a location, he said he probably won’t be able to reopen until spring. He said he’d open sooner, but he needs to set up a food commissary station within a nearby building and secure state permits.

“I’d reopen in two weeks if I could,” he said.

Being closed during the winter won’t be a huge loss financially, Bernier said, because business is usually slow then. He said he’s more worried about letting customers down.

“I mean, it’s going to hurt,” he said. “With the customer base, I don’t want to lose any.”

On his last day on Tuesday, there was a steady stream of customers at Don’s Lunch during lunchtime. Bernier hopes that wherever he’s located people will come find him.

“The van itself kind of has an aura,” he said. “People say it’s a staple. It’s an icon in Westbrook.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Craig Bernier, owner of Don’s Lunch, is looking for a new location for his business and is hoping to stay in Westbrook.

Don’s Lunch, which has been in Westbrook for 41 years, had its last day at Friendly Gas on Oct. 31.

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