LEWISTON — After leading a wave of Lisbon Street rebirth and investment, Fuel is coming to an end.
The popular French restaurant is closing Sept. 8.
Owner Eric Agren, who opened Fuel 11 years ago, said Tuesday afternoon that it’s bittersweet, but it’s time.
The restaurant over the years had attracted diners including Patrick Dempsey, Kelly Ripa and Robert Di Niro and a loyal local following.
“Not a lot of people know this, but I’ve had a full-time job the entire time I’ve owned Fuel,” Agren said.
First, it was a corporate job, and for the past several years, it’s been head of marketing and customer service for Agren Appliance, owned by his brother, Jason.
“I’m there all day, the business is growing, we have six locations now,” he said. “It’s big and we’re busy and that’s taking a lot of my time. I’m getting older, family’s a priority and I don’t get to spend as much time with my family and friends as I like because I work all day and I go to Fuel.”
Agren said he thought the timing would also be good for his staff. Sixteen people work at Fuel.
“The unemployment rate is super, super low right now,” he said. “In the restaurant business, if you look around, there’s incredible demand for cooks and servers everywhere around Maine.”
Agren said business had been good and that wasn’t a main driver for the decision. Two years ago, he held an essay contest to pass the restaurant on to a new owner and later canceled the contest.
He said Tuesday that he plans to sell the first-floor space at 49 Lisbon St. outfitted as a restaurant but does not want to sell the Fuel brand.
“Part of the struggle of opening a restaurant is all that stuff: how many refrigerators do you need and where does this stuff go and what do you buy for silverware,” Agren said. “All of those things are kind of handled; it makes it a lot easier to get into the business.
“Of course, it’s bittersweet, it’s my baby,” he said,”but certainly a good decision for me. It’s just time.”
Agren opened Fuel after having lived in Chicago for six years, coming back home to buy two buildings downtown. He opened Fuel and the restaurant Marche, living above Fuel for several years in a high-end condominium he created there.
That confidence and investment kick-started a wave of new projects, with Agren receiving the city of Lewiston’s economic development award several years ago.
“He was the spark that really ignited the revitalization of downtown,” said Lincoln Jeffers, the city’s economic and community development director.
He said Tuesday that he feels like the momentum is still strong downtown.
In a note sent to customers, Agren said the inspiration to open Fuel came from wanting to bring “something new, unexpected and delicious to our hometown community.
“Together we gathered, we feasted, and we celebrated,” he wrote. “We learned a lot about the great people and potential of Lewiston, and we ate a lot of damn good French food.
“Thank you for giving Fuel a remarkable run. For being a part of this rare experience to create something out of boarded-up shop fronts and rubble. This chapter has been beyond our expectations and we are proud to be stepping down when we are and with downtown better than when we started.”