LEWISTON — Eric Agren is keeping Fuel. And he’s OK with that.

Agren called off his essay contest and refunded all of the entrants’ money on Monday, saying that he hadn’t received enough essays to go ahead with it.

In July, Agren announced that he was giving away his popular French restaurant Fuel and a neighboring Lisbon Street condo — more than $1 million in assets — to the winner of what he named “Maine’s Dream Restaurant Contest.”

Entrants had to pay a $150 fee and make their best case for taking over Fuel in 300 words or less. He had hoped to receive at least 8,000 entries. Agren declined to reveal how many had been submitted in the 90-day window, which closed in late October.

“It took us until today to come to this decision, to officially make the call and make sure everybody’s money was refunded,” Agren said. “It was worth a shot. I like the model a lot. I still think it’s a really cool idea.”

When he opened Fuel in March 2007, Lisbon Street hadn’t seen much recent investment; Fuel kicked off a decade of revitalization. This past summer, Agren said he was ready to try something new in Lewiston-Auburn. Those plans might just take a little longer now to pull off.

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“I want to make perfectly clear I’m not going anywhere. A lot of people thought, ‘Eric is going to cash out and leave town’ — that’s entirely not true,” he said.

The restaurant had stayed open during the contest and Agren and his staff will continue to run it.

“Our business is up year-over-year,” he said. “It’s a successful business and it’s a personal thing. That’s my baby. I don’t want it to close down.”

Had he directly listed the property for sale, Agren said, he’d have to ask $1 million to get his investment back, a figure he didn’t think was “feasible or realistic,” which was why he’d opted for the contest.

“Potentially, if there’s somebody that’s interested and I can transition the business over time, that would be something that I’d like to do,” he said. “Time-frame-wise, I have zero idea when that would be. I’m in no rush.”

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