Four Burger King restaurants in Greater Bangor and midcoast Maine will close their doors on Monday after the fast food corporation declined to renew the franchise agreement for those locations.
The fast food franchise is among several national chains to close locations in Maine for different reasons over the past year, some related to the pandemic, some not. Friendly’s closed two stores last year, one in Augusta and one in Windham, the latter because a lease wasn’t renewed. That leaves only one open in South Portland.
But overall, quick-service restaurants like Burger King have fared better than other kinds of restaurants during the pandemic, James Myall, policy analyst at the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy, said.
“They’ve usually been better placed to adapt, with existing drive-thru options,” he said. “In some cases, they also have more resources if they’re part of a national chain, compared to a small independent operation.”
Steve Hewins, president and CEO of Hospitality Maine, an industry group, agreed.
“Drive thru sales have excelled, because it has been deemed safe by nearly all customers,” he said. Some operators like Chipotle have changed their entire business model to contactless pick up or delivery. There is strong demand and good pay for workers in those restaurants at all levels, he said.
However, overall all kinds of restaurants in Maine are seeing fewer sales due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which is hurting job chances for workers, Myall said.
“These workers are most likely to have lost their jobs in Maine out of any industry sector,” Myall said. “And because jobs in food service tend to be low-wage jobs, these folks are likely to be struggling most with the loss of income.”
The Burger King restaurants are owned by Steve Wegner of Orono. Wegner was not available for comment, but a representative who answered the phone at his company — and who declined to give her name — confirmed that Monday was the last day for the four franchises.
The restaurants are located on Hogan Road in Bangor, Stillwater Avenue in Orono, High Street in Ellsworth and Camden Street in Rockland.
The four restaurants employ between 80 and 100 people, according to Wegner’s representative. There are two other Burger King franchises in the area — on Union Street in Bangor and on Wilson Street in Brewer — that have different owners.
Wegner had hoped the corporation would renew the lease for the four franchises under a different owner who was willing to buy and operate them, but the company did not agree to do so, according to Wegner’s representative.
“We tried until the very last second,” she said. “This was the last thing the owner wanted — to put people out of work.” She said that Wegner has been in poor health, but that the restaurants could have kept “running like a well-oiled machine” without him.
She also suggested that Burger King may have wanted to consolidate its business in the Greater Bangor market by just leaving two locations open, particularly amid the business challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
A Burger King spokesperson confirmed that the company “had determined not to renew” the franchise agreements at those four locations and said that the other two restaurants will remain open on Union Street in Bangor and Wilson Street in Brewer. But she did not respond to a question about what prompted the company to not renew the four franchise agreements.
Earlier this year, Wegner also closed all three of Aroostook County’s Burger Kings. That came five years after he closed his Calais franchise after filing for personal bankruptcy.
When he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2014, Wegner had more than $827,000 in outstanding debts, according to bankruptcy court documents. Wegner emerged from bankruptcy in September 2015, when his case was closed.
Other Burger King restaurants can still be found in Auburn, Augusta, Biddeford, Cumberland, Farmington, Gray, Gorham, Kennebunk, Lewiston, Palmyra, Portland, South Paris, Waterville and Windham.
The closure of the Ellsworth Burger King is the second such closure of a franchise restaurant in that city since the pandemic spread to Maine last spring. In May, Denny’s locations in Ellsworth and Biddeford shut down permanently.
BDN writers Christopher Burns and Lori Valigra contributed to this report.