Daddy O’s in Oxford. Advertiser Democrat / Nicole Carter

NORWAY — Ryan Ricci, co-owner of 290 Maine Street in Norway, isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself in order to bring in takeout customers.

After closing for a month under a state order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the restaurant will reopen Thursday and Friday with a limited takeout menu. The draw? Ricci and his business partner, Peter Smedberg, will be dressed up as characters from the wildly popular Netflix documentary, “Tiger King.”

“We took some time off, and we thought ‘how do we come back to show that we’re still here … we were sitting down and thought, ‘how the hell do we do it, and how do we make it fun?’”

The answer? Any customer dressed as Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, or any other character at the heart of the big-cat-based drama will get 10% off their bill.

“Obviously, ‘Tiger King’ mania has been happening … we always make jokes about the show, so it’s just like why don’t we just dress up, and try to get people out here so they make fun of us,” Ricci said.”We don’t care. We’ll make it fun … It could be anyone … it could be Carol Baskin, it could be any of those guys.”

The shutdown ordered by Gov. Janet Mills hasn’t been easy for 290 Maine Street, and Ricci said they don’t plan to make money during their limited takeout hours. But, he said, when restaurants reopen it’s important that their loyal group of customers know 290 is still open.

“It’s not about making money … we might be busy, but it’s not like we’re going to cash in,” he said. “It’s just to show people that we’re going to be here, ‘thank you for supporting us,’ and to see some people while they pick up some food.”

Surviving the shutdown hasn’t been easy for Daddy O’s Diner on Route 26 in Oxford. Since switching to a takeout only menu, Amanda Ouellette, who is co-owner with her husband, Aaron Ouellette, said she’s lost about 80% of her business and has had to let go of every employee except herself, her husband, and one line cook.

But Ouellette said the community has helped keep Daddy O’s alive. Every Friday afternoon a line of cars snakes around the parking lot waiting for a free meal.

Ouellette said the money from the meals comes from numerous donations in the community, and with the help of the First Congregational Church in South Paris. About a dollar per meal goes back to Daddy O’s, helping to keep the diner in business.

“It’s the same people that are supporting us day in and day out … we can turn around and support them, because as they say, we’re all in this together,” she said. “The community has always been important to us, even before this.”

For Ricci, who said 290 Maine Street has also been hurt by the shutdown, a silly way to bring in customers is a welcome returned to a semblance of normalcy for the restaurant and their regular customers.

“The whole point is to make a fool out of ourselves to get people to come in,” he said.

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