LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — An iconic midcoast eatery that served up seafood and ocean views to tourists and locals for nearly a century has called it quits.
The 260-seat Lincolnville Lobster Pound’s long run perched on sandy Lincolnville Beach, where it debuted in the 1920s with just 60 seats, ended at the close of this season. The restaurant’s owners have decided to shut down, and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last month.
Owner Dick McLaughlin and his wife, Patty, met as employees at the restaurant, and continued working here for just shy of 60 years. Dick and his brother bought the restaurant from their parents in the early 1970s. The Lobster Pound survived fire and flood, but ultimately fell to the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis and rising costs of running an oceanfront operation, according to McLaughlin.
“The downturn of the economy is of course the beginning of our financial downfall,” McLaughlin wrote in an email.
The Lobster Pound faced mounting operational costs in recent years. Its mandated flood insurance was set at $1,900 per year originally, but that cost has steadily climbed to $10,000 per year and shows no sign of leveling out, McLaughlin said.
The restaurant partly funded the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s construction of a wastewater treatment plant that services businesses along Route 1 through town, and it has paid annual maintenance fees of $19,000 in the 26 years since, McLaughlin said.
A number of smaller factors compounded to make things more difficult. For example, the restaurant lost 26 customer parking spaces to a state project, meaning fewer open parking spots for patrons and beachgoers in busy summer weeks. McLaughlin also pointed to online restaurant reviews on websites like Yelp.
“Although 70 percent of our reviews are positive, there are some reviews that would cast doubt and cause some patrons who do not know us to pass us by,” McLaughlin said.
He also had concerns about the recent passage of Maine’s minimum wage referendum. The initiative was widely criticized by restaurant owners, who said the elimination of the tipped wage credit could put their businesses at risk.
“We can only charge so much and still compete,” McLaughlin wrote. “Another good reason we are not the first, and won’t be the last. It wasn’t a deciding factor for us, but would have been a problem had we continued.”
Two years ago, McLaughlin sought to boost business by reimagining the restaurant as a brewpub and entering a partnership with Lincolnville’s Andrews Brewing Co. It wasn’t enough to save the restaurant.
In spite of those efforts, banks weren’t willing to refinance his business. McLaughlin reached out to an Auburn-based business consulting firm, which after a thorough review recommended that he explore bankruptcy options, McLaughlin said.
Jodi Hanson, Lincolnville’s finance director and acting town manager, said the loss of the business would be felt in the community and across the region.
“Most people in town have worked for Dick at one time or another,” she said Thursday. “[The restaurant] helped many teenagers and students pay their way through college over the years by busting their butts all summer.”
She said the town values the huge waterfront structure at a little over $900,000.
“It’s an iconic landmark, and we hate to see them go,” Hanson said.
McLaughlin said he wants to thank his 49 employees for their years of service, as well as the hundreds of other employees who cycled through the seasonal business over the years. He also thanked customers from across the U.S. and abroad, many of whom he considers good friends.
Though the brewpub has closed, Andrews Brewing Co. remains open at 353 High St. in Lincolnville. The brewery celebrates its 25th year of business in January, making it the fifth-oldest in the state. It produces about 500 barrels of beer per year, mostly ales, and runs a bottling operation, according to co-owner Ben Hazen.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.