When Cole Farms owner Brad Pollard says, “This place is unique,” you don’t have to look far for verification.
Pollard, who represents a younger segment of the family-owned business, explained that the popular restaurant at 64 Lewiston Road, Route 202 just north of Gray, has changed a lot through nearly 60 years, but he said it also has been important “to make subtle changes so you don’t lose the sense of what this place is all about.”
What it’s all about is good, home cooking. Many customers have their menu favorites in mind as soon as they walk through the door.
Nevertheless, Pollard hasn’t ignored the need to accommodate newer tastes, and the menu now offers wraps, salads, swordfish and a number of other recent additions.
Cole Farms is not only a large and popular restaurant, it is also a local institution with a solid reputation for providing a job with flexible working conditions to many local residents. Over the years of its existence, hundreds of area residents have been Cole Farms employees.
Pollard said many young people are on his workforce and he likes to encourage them.
“Especially in hard times, the younger people are good workers,” Pollard said.
He said many employees first worked for him when they were in high school or college. Some left to start families, and they often come back after five or 10 years and work flexible part-time hours for supplemental income.
Pollard, who is a member of the executive board of the Maine Restaurant Association, makes business decisions based on nearly 60 years of financial data that helps him analyze and adjust for changing times.
When a lot a chain restaurants began building all over Maine in 2002-2005, Cole Farms endured the same challenges that faced many other older establishments.
“People try the new spots, but they come back,” Pollard said. “We have a large customer base and it’s growing all the time.”
It all began when trees and junipers were cleared from a rocky pasture in the spring of 1952 to provide room for a 24-by-30 foot building and a small parking lot. Steady growth occurred in its first decade and there were 10 additions during the next 10 years with seating for 235. A gift shop was added in 1994, and that space has recently been turned back into additional dining area.
No meal is complete until you’ve tried one of the Cole Farms desserts – more than 40 to chose from. The pies and puddings are baked fresh daily on the premises, and 13 varieties of ice cream are also made at Cole Farms.
Cole Farms caters for banquets at Spring Meadows Golf and Country Club just across the highway, which is also under Cole Farms ownership. IThe Club includes a 1922 barn remodeled to become a full banquet facility with seating capacity for more than 200.
The Cole Farms business flourishes even in the late fall and winter because of a loyal and well-established patronage coming from a distance of 40 to 50 miles or more.
More information is available on the Cole Farms Web site at www.colefarms.com.