LEWISTON — Eric Agren is letting Fuel go in an essay contest.

The winning entry will get Agren’s hot French restaurant, everything inside it, $20,000 in operating funds and a condo next door.

For a $150 entry fee and a killer 300-word essay, more than $1 million in assets could be yours — as long as he gets at least 8,000 entries.

“I think it’s a cool way to transition a business,” Agren said. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ They’ve been saying that for 10 years.”

“Maine’s Dream Restaurant Contest” opened Thursday when Agren announced the plans at the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

The collective reaction from a packed room of local business leaders at Lost Valley: a gasped, “What?”

Minutes later, actor Patrick Dempsey, the morning’s speaker, joked that he was already working on his essay.

Agren helped usher in an era of Lisbon Street redevelopment when he opened the high-end Fuel in March 2007 and opted to live downtown. 

After almost a decade, he said he’s ready for a change. Agren has a few new projects in mind — potentially local, nothing he wants to talk about yet — but first he wants to find “new blood and energy” for Fuel.

“I liked (this approach) because it’s going to pay my expenses, if it works, and it levels the playing field for people who want to own the restaurant,” Agren said. “If I were to sell it, I’d really have to sell it for $1 million. It’s a lot of money to sell it at that price and then have somebody operate it, unless they’re extremely wealthy.”

The new owners would walk in debt-free, winning, according to the contest:

* Fuel, all of the equipment and personal property inside and the 7,000 square feet of commercial space it is housed in at 49 Lisbon St.; 

* The new Sidecar private event space;

* Fuel’s entire wine and liquor inventory;

* A 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom, high-end condominium to live in next door at 43 Lisbon St.;

* 30 days of hands-on training from Agren;

* $20,000 in operating funds.

He anticipates national, and potentially international, interest. 

The contest will run for 90 days. As soon as people submit essays online at www.fuelcontest.com, they’ll be stripped of names and assigned a number.

Agren will help winnow the submissions down to 20 finalists. The winner, to be announced this fall, will be picked by a panel of three impartial judges, not including Agren. (Even with a blind contest, he said, he doesn’t want to risk being accused of favoritism.)

“I think it’s pretty unique out there as far as essay contests go,” said Agren, who two years ago sold his downtown condo to live in his native Auburn. “I think a lot of them are, ‘OK, I’m tired and I need to pay my bills.’ This is not a cash grab. This is me wanting to pay my expenses and move on to other things I’ve been looking at. I think it’s pretty exciting.”

Essayists can use those 300 words to make the best case for taking over the restaurant. Tell a bit about themselves. Anything.

And what about ensuring the new owner maintains quality and reputation?

“Obviously, there’s an element of risk there,” Agren said. “We’re going to try very hard to make sure that it is the right person.”

If he doesn’t receive enough entries, he’ll continue the business as is, Agren said.

If he receives some number above 8,000 entries, he’ll donate $5,000 to The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing.

“I’m going to ask you for a tweet,” Agren said to Dempsey at the chamber event.

“It’s already going out,” the actor quipped.

According to the contest rules, individuals can submit more than one essay, paying an entry fee each time, and cannot include their name or address within the 300 words.

“You’ll have no mortgage,” Agren said. “You’ll own 9,000 square feet of prime commercial real estate in downtown Lewiston. That winner has to be somebody who wants to live in downtown Lewiston and they want to run a restaurant.”

Agren teased within the contest rules that his new venture won’t be a restaurant in central Maine.

“Right when I’d heard (of his essay contest plans), I was like, that’s typical of Eric Agren, and I thought, ‘This is going to be a great opportunity,'” said Chamber President Matt Leonard. “I’m very excited.”

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.