Chicago has its pizza; Philadelphia, its cheese steak. Bangor, however, has its Coffee Pot sandwich.
Hundreds of the salami and-or ham sandwiches were purchased Friday at the grand opening of the Coffee Pot Cafe on Broadway, the new restaurant opened by former employees of the original Coffee Pot on State Street, which closed in December.
Cheryl Whittaker and Kathie Potter, who worked at the Rist family establishment for a combined 30 years, announced last month that they were opening the cafe in the former Starbucks location adjacent to Bangor Savings Bank. On Friday, Potter and a staff of five made the meat, cheese, onion, tomato, pepper and pickle sandwiches out back while Whittaker ran the cash register. By 11:30 a.m., the line, which began forming around 10, was more than 60 people long.
“I’m having a ball,” said Whittaker, sporting a Coffee Pot Cafe apron and hat. “That’s my job.”
Controversy about the new restaurant swelled after original Coffee Pot owner Skip Rist made it clear through a letter to the editor in the April 7 edition of the Bangor Daily News that he did not approve of Whittaker and Potter’s venture.
Rist closed his restaurant on Dec. 31 after nearly 80 years in business. Though he gave his blessing to a handful of area businesses making imitation sandwiches under different names, he did not extend that blessing to Whittaker using the same name.
Be that as it may, the hundreds of hungry sandwich fans lined up Friday morning seemed undeterred by the debate. The general consensus among many of the Coffee Pot fans after their first bite of the sandwich was that it tasted essentially the same.
“These are the same girls that were here before, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the same,” said Valora Morgan, a Charleston resident who was on her lunch break from Webber Energy. “You can’t quite put your finger on why they taste so good, but they do. They’re just awesome.”
Dennis and Linda Demmons of Hermon waited in line for 45 minutes to buy their Coffee Pots. Both sampled some of the copycat sandwiches that have been served at area markets and restaurants, but neither was impressed.
“We tried some of the imitation sandwiches, and they’re just not as good,” said Dennis Demmons. “If these people don’t get it right, nobody will. I used to get a large and a small Coffee Pot at the old place, and I’d eat the small one on the way home. I love them.”
The lack of parking and the crush of people resulted in a significant wait — nothing as bad as the 450-person line that formed on the last day the original Coffee Pot was open, but it did take between 30 minutes and an hour to get through the line. The new drive-through pickup window held up some of the customer flow as well.
“Next week we’ll be a lot better off,” said Whittaker after assisting another employee handing a bag of 13 sandwiches and chips out the drive-through window. “I think so. I hope so!”
Meredith Lang drove up from Belfast to buy herself a sandwich, getting in line at 10 a.m. and getting her lunch soon after the place opened at 11. But she had to wait in line again after news of her visit to the cafe spread among her friends.
“I got back in line and waited for another hour because my friends called me and wanted me to get them some,” she said. “It’s well worth it, though. I was there the week the old one closed. There was a place in Belfast called Lafond’s [on Main Street] way back that used to sell sandwiches like it. I’ve always loved them.”
Phone orders are another new addition to the business, as well as whoopie pies and cream horns from Sweet Pete’s and, yes, coffee.
“We were so happy to hear that it’s back,” said Lynn Cudaback of Orrington. “I called information to try to get the number so I could phone in an order, and the lady that answered said she didn’t have the number.
But she said, ‘You would not believe how many calls we’ve gotten about the Coffee Pot. Is it coffee?’ I said, ‘No, it’s sandwiches.’ She said, ‘I’m from Vermont, and next trip we come up, we’re checking it out.’”
Bangor Daily News readers reacted to the Coffee Pot Cafe story online, posting comments on www.bangordailynews.com.
Some did not think that Whittaker and Potter were in the right in opening their new cafe. Though Rist does not hold a legal trademark on the name “Coffee Pot,” some believe it’s inappropriate of the pair to use his name without his permission.
“At the bottom [of the menu] it implies that it’s the same sandwich and ‘the same people,’” posted reader sassyfrazz. “No wonder Skip put an ad out in BDN. Sorry, capitalism is one thing, taking the entire menu and not even disclosing that it’s the former employees of the Coffee Pot — not the original owner — is just plain tacky.”
Others felt that the two were well within their rights — and hoped that Whittaker and Potter were successful in their business. Regardless of whom it’s made by, the Coffee Pot sandwich has become a symbol of the city.
“Glad to know I will still be able to get a Coffee Pot,” read a comment by BDN reader user5225. “Skip, I appreciated the years of your kind service and I wish you a good retirement. I don’t see what the big deal is, it’s not like [you’re] being hurt by this. We still get our sandwiches, the ladies get a pay raise hopefully, and you still get to stay retired. We are all winners.”
The Coffee Pot Cafe is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. To place an order for pickup, call 990-2633.