CALAIS, Maine — The Burger King restaurant on North Street has closed as the owner of the franchise is trying to emerge from personal bankruptcy.
Steven P. Wegner, an Orono resident who owns eight Burger King restaurants in eastern and northern Maine, voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Bangor in May 2014, according to bankruptcy court documents. Aside from the restaurant in Calais, Wegner also owns Burger Kings in Bangor, Caribou, Ellsworth, Houlton, Presque Isle, Orono and Rockland.
Wegner said by phone Thursday afternoon that the closure of the Calais restaurant on Tuesday was “the hardest day of my business life.” He said he has owned and operated Burger King restaurants for 35 years and never closed one until this week.
Wegner said the Calais restaurant employed 20 people, all of whom he has offered jobs at his other Burger Kings if they are willing to move. A few, he added, have expressed interest in possibly relocating.
The Calais franchise opened in 1987 and performed well for the first two decades it was open, Wegner said.
“We used to do very good volumes in Calais,” Wegner said. “Until 2008 or 2009, it was profitable.”
After that, traffic and revenue declined, he said. The recession, tighter border restrictions after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the difficult business climate in Washington County all are likely factors in why business declined at the Calais location, he speculated.
“That’s what has led to the closure of this restaurant,” Wegner said of its declining profits.
Wegner’s bankruptcy attorney, Michael Fagone of Portland, said Thursday in a separate interview that Wegner’s primary lender, Katahdin Trust Co., and Burger King have been supportive of restructuring Wegner’s debts but that the process has taken longer than expected. He said the parties are working to have Wegner emerge from bankruptcy by sometime in March and that none of his other Burger King restaurants are expected to be affected by the bankruptcy.
According to court documents, at the time of his initial May 29, 2014, petition filing, there was a total of at least $830,658 in unsecured claims held against Wegner by his creditors. The largest such claim listed was a $439,375.10 debt he owed to Burger King Corp.
On Wednesday, Jan. 7, federal bankruptcy Judge Louis Kornreich extended an operating plan that gives Wegner access to cash to keep the remaining seven stores operating at least through the end of February, court documents indicate.
According to a November 1989 profile of Wegner that appeared in the Bangor Daily News, Wegner is a former high school history teacher from northern New Jersey who moved to Maine in 1980 to open and operate the Burger King in Ellsworth. At the time of the 1989 article, Wegner was operating five Burger King restaurants in Maine but had not yet begun operating the three Aroostook County restaurants in Caribou, Houlton and Presque Isle.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Calais restaurant opened in 1997. The restaurant opened in 1987, according to the owner.