WATERVILLE — Bolley’s Famous Franks made a change in late June that has left some customers feeling heated.
What has them so worked up? The College Avenue icon’s decision to switch from crinkle-cut to straight-cut french fries.
Recently, though, the outrage regarding the change made by owners Leslie and Jim Parsons has escalated. Jim Parsons said a man came in earlier this month, angry about the change, and ended up threatening to fight him when he was kicked out for becoming disorderly around customers.
“People come in with a negative attitude that the fries aren’t going to be the same,” Jim Parsons said Tuesday. “That’s a tough sale for us.”
“People think we’re changing tradition,” Leslie Parsons said. “We’ve given so much respect to the previous owners.”
The Parsons family is not affiliated with the original group of brothers who opened the hot dog shops. It was run by three generations of the Genest family, starting with Guy Genest in 1962, until closing in 2014. The Parsons family reopened the Waterville Bolley’s in 2017.
Donald Pooler, owner of the Bolley’s Famous Franks in Hallowell, said the franchise started in the 1962 when the eatery opened on Bangor Street in Augusta. It moved to Water Street in Hallowell in 1972. While crinkle-cut was the standard in Waterville, Pooler said the Hallowell location has always served straight-cut fries.
The change, Leslie Parson said, comes down to finances.
In the prep kitchen, a heavy metal machine affixed with crinkle-cutting blades sits idle next to a straight-bladed spud cutter. The crinkle-cut fries are cut vertically and horizontally with two sets of special blades that are sold in boxes of 10, and are usually purchased monthly. Leslie Parsons said the blades are flimsy and half of the money the restaurant takes in from french fries goes back into repairing or buying blades.
“As businesses, we have to make tough changes,” she said. “We have not changed the quality or the taste, just the cut.”
The new fries, about as thin as McDonald’s fries, are exactly the same product aside from the aesthetics. The potatoes are from Fryeburg’s Green Thumb Farms, which Jim Parsons said is the best potato in Maine. The restaurant sells more than 1,000 pounds of fries a week, he said.
Leslie Parsons wrote a Facebook post last week after the threats and grumblings of customers became, what she perceived, a threat to her family’s safety.
“Within the last week, we have encountered some pretty disturbing and hostile customers apparently very unhappy with our straight-cut french fry,” she wrote. “While I fully understand the crinkle cut has been the long-standing traditional fry of Bolley’s, I was forced to make an unpopular business decision for reasons as a business owner one must make from time to time.”
She said the safety of her three daughters — who regularly work the cash register or hang out around the store — was called into question with angry customers.
“When someone is hostile, you don’t know where the endpoint is going to be,” she said. “If you’re getting into fights over french fries, you’ve got bigger problems.”
The post received more than 200 comments pledging their support for the business and condemning the behavior of angry customers.
Brian Bane, a Pittsfield resident who works at the Waterville Post Office, said Tuesday that the fries were still as good as they ever were.
“I think they’re all good,” he said, walking out with two hot dogs and a box of fries. “It’s hard to mess up hot dogs and fries.”
Some commenters on the Facebook post were blunt with their opinion on the change.
“I prefer the older cut, due to how it cooked up and browned to a crisp,” Christopher Doe, a Waterville resident who lives a mile from Bolley’s, said in a Facebook message. “These were unique to Bolley’s, and with the new cut, it’s generic like all other establishments. Bolley’s is a restaurant that I have been going to since I was a child, and traditions die hard.”
Doe said that he did not know if he would stop eating at Bolley’s because of the change — he’s swayed by the hot dogs topped with fried salt pork — but he said customers acting out in the store were in the wrong.
“If you want to show your displeasure, state it to the owners in a considerate way and take your money and respectfully take your business elsewhere,” he said.
Despite the backlash, Leslie Parsons said “99.9 percent of our customers are awesome.”
LEFT: Bolley’s Famous Franks’ traditional crinkle-cut french fries in March 2017. RIGHT: Straight-cut french fries served at Bolley’s on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Bolley’s Famous Franks; Sam Shepherd/Kennebec Journal)