June 20, 2018
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Tempest in a Coffee Pot: Original makers to sell famous sandwich

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

Just three months after the beloved Bangor lunch spot the Coffee Pot closed, it is possible in multiple locations to purchase a sandwich that’s very nearly a dead ringer for the original oniony delight. At last count, four different area businesses are serving Coffee Pot taste-alike sandwiches.

Jimmy V’s on Hammond Street in Bangor serves a Tea Pot sandwich, while Java Joe’s on Central Street in downtown offers its Java Pot. Court Street Market, also in Bangor, sells a “Coppee Pot,” and Birmingham’s in Old Town began offering a Copy Pot just weeks after the original Coffee Pot closed on Dec. 31. Salami, ham, cheese, green peppers, tomatoes, pickles, oil, red pepper flakes, and, of course, onions, on a freshly baked roll. It’s not a secret recipe, but there’s a trick to making it right.

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Now two former employees of the defunct State Street business have taken matters into their own hands.

Cheryl Whittaker and Kathie Potter, who worked for the Coffee Pot for 20 and 10 years, respectively, will open the Coffee Pot Café in the former location of Starbucks on Broadway in Bangor. The restaurant, set to open April 16, will feature the original selection of Coffee Pot sandwiches created by longtime sandwich master Skip Rist, from the most popular one, the Deluxe, to the tuna sandwich.

“It’s what I am, and it’s what I do,” said Whittaker. “I love seeing people every day, and I love making food for them. I love what I do.”

Whittaker and Potter opened the restaurant with the help of local dentist, Dr. Robert Erickson, and his wife, Sally, who helped them sign the lease on the building, which is adjacent to a Bangor Savings Bank.

“The day we closed the old restaurant, [Erickson] was asking me to reopen in another spot,” said Whittaker. “I kept saying no, but he kept upping the offer. He made it too good. I couldn’t say no.”

Whittaker told Rist, who is now retired, about her plans to open a new cafe with the same menu as his old restaurant.

“I went and told him I did it, and he wasn’t pleased,” said Whittaker. “He thinks it should no longer exist. People have been making the sandwiches all over town, with different names. I have to do what’s good, and this is an opportunity for me. It’s not the same business, but it is the same sandwiches.”

Rist was unavailable for comment. Sandy Healey, an employee at Court Street Market, said that Rist gave his blessing to their business to make their “Coppee Pot” sandwiches, which have the same ingredients but a different name.

“We gave a bunch of sandwiches to different local businesses about two months ago, just to get some feedback on whether or not they were any good,” said Healey. “Everybody loved it. They’ve been a big success for us.”

It seems that the Coffee Pot sandwich, made in the fashion that Skip Rist made them for more than 50 years, isn’t going away anytime soon. Whittaker’s new business will sell them under their original name, while the various local shops will sell them under different names, all of which are a play upon the original name. A search for “Coffee Pot” on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Web site did not reveal a trademark for any sandwiches, so it appears Whittaker is within her legal right to sell her product as such.

To paraphrase Shakespeare — a Coffee Pot by any other name smells as sweet. Especially if you like onions.

“Skip expressed complete opposition to the new place,” said Healey. “He’s honored by the local shops that didn’t use his name, but were making the sandwiches. Our sandwiches aren’t supposed to be exactly the same. They’re just comparable. All we’re trying to do is bring back a sandwich from yesteryear.”

Whittaker, who made Coffee Pots for 20 years, will not be behind the counter this time — Potter will make sandwiches, along with a few new employees, while Whittaker will run the register. Nothing about the sandwich will change.

“People think there’s some sort of different thing that makes them taste like they do,” said Whittaker. “It just is what it is. I can’t wait to open.”

The new Coffee Pot Café will differ from the former Coffee Pot in several ways. Whittaker intends to include seating for 20 inside the space, with retro-theme tables and chairs. The drive-through window, used while the location was a Starbucks, will be turned into a pickup window, for phone-ahead orders.

Perhaps most different, the new café actually will serve coffee.

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