BANGOR, Maine — By 9 a.m. Thursday, the line to get into The Coffee Pot stretched from the building on State Street to halfway down nearby Boyd Street. An informal head count tallied 450 people, with more joining the line every few minutes. They arrived before the 10 a.m. opening hoping to get one last Coffee Pot sandwich before the eatery closed for good.
As confirmed by owner Skip Rist, The Coffee Pot, a Bangor business institution, had its last day on Dec. 31. The business had operated for nearly 80 years. It was known for serving its distinctive Coffee Pot sandwich — made with ham or salami, onions, cheese and vegetables. Rist, who worked in the shop for nearly six decades, will finally retire, at age 72.
By 11 a.m., nearly 40 people had managed to get inside and purchase a sandwich. The first of these were the Cox family of Bangor, who arrived at 6:30 a.m. to get in line. Katie Cox Sino, Ellen Cox and Janie Cox Varney planned to purchase a total of 24 sandwiches.
“I’d rather get here at 6:30 and wait and be sure to get a sandwich than arrive at 10 and not get any,” said Ellen Cox.
Having grown up across the street from the popular sandwich shop, the Cox family had many fond memories of the neighborhood landmark. “It’s the only place you can go and see multiple generations, from little kids to older people,” said Sino.
By 1:30 p.m., all of the sandwiches were gone. Anthony Moore, 23, of Brewer, got the last one — a tuna sandwich, despite the fact that he isn’t particularly fond of tuna.
“My grandparents took me here 20 years ago, when I was 3,” said Moore, clutching his brown bag. “I feel bad for the old lady behind me, because she really wanted one. But I don’t even care if it’s tuna. I’ll eat it anyway.”
Some in line left the green-walled building with sacks full of sandwiches to share with friends, family and co-workers. Some in line were willing to pay significantly more than the usual $3.50 for one last Coffee Pot. Joanne Mason, of Edinburgh, realized she wasn’t going to be able to get one with the way the line was going — until a chance encounter with Eric Roger, of Bangor, who also waited in line.
“Somebody said, ‘I’ll sell my sandwich for 20 bucks,’ So I said ‘I’ll take it,’” said Roger.
Mason then upped the ante.
“I told him I’d give him $21 for it,” said Mason. Rogers agreed, and the transaction was made.
“I couldn’t resist. She was too nice,” said Rogers. “I just had to.”
Mason planned to share her $21 Coffee Pot sandwich — a super deluxe — with her ambulance crew co-workers at Penobscot Valley Hospital, but not before she gave another Coffee Pot fan a taste: Tony Bennett, of Bethel, who drove 140 miles to try to get one more sandwich.
“There’s nothing like it in the world,” said Bennett, through a mouthful of sandwich.
“I would have stood here anyway, even if I didn’t get one,” said Mason. “I’ve enjoyed Coffee Pots for 40 years, but this has been so much fun, standing out here with all these people. It was worth every bit.”
Michelle Clark, a Glenburn resident, was so determined to get a sandwich she gave one person far ahead of her in line $80 to purchase her two.
“No, I’d never normally pay 40 bucks for a sandwich. But this is The Coffee Pot. This is a part of history,” said Clark, who shouted with glee as the man she paid to get her sandwiches came out of the door bearing her lunch. “It’s all about the onions. I think they soak them in some special sauce, but Skip says he doesn’t. I don’t know if I believe him.”
According to an employee of Brick Oven Bakery, Rist purchased 90 dozen of its special rolls for his last day in business. By noon, small handfuls of people in line had begun to leave, dismayed that they probably would not be able to get one.
Traffic was backed up on State Street, as well as on side streets, as motorists tried to maneuver around the crowded area. Bangor police officers were dispatched to deal with the crowd, and parking enforcement officials put up temporary parking orders on State Street directly outside The Coffee Pot, as well as on Boyd Street and York Street.
At the far end of the line, next to Boyd Place at Phillips-Strickland House, a retirement community, a group of friends joined the crowd — though they knew their chances of getting a coveted sandwich were slim.
“My cousin in Arizona asked me to ship her one,” said Laurie Richards of Brewer.
“My friend in Vermont just texted me and asked me to get one for her too,” said Christina Clark, also of Brewer. “She’s moving back to Bangor next month and said that was going to be the first thing she got when she came back. It’s too late now!”