One Of The Biggest Decisions We’ve Ever Made And What It Could Mean For You

At first, the decision was out of necessity. Then, it became our own. The decision we’re talking about was a big one. We closed our full-service dining room.

Congdon’s Family Restaurant & Bakery has been serving up world famous doughnuts and delicious breakfast items since 1955. With our doughnuts, we sell other pastries, coffees, and specialty drinks along with breakfast sandwiches and other quick hot food items. At the peak of COVID, the only way to stay open was to follow very specific, strict, and confusing rules (that constantly changed and became harder to follow), so we decided that closing the building to guests was our best option. And so, we relied on our drive through and take out windows to provide our guests with a safe way to visit. Before this, these two areas were barely used as most guests chose to come inside to view our products at the bakery counter. So, we had no idea what to expect.

But we thrived. While the world was on pause, our guests waited over an hour in the drive thru line or on our front yard for their little piece of joy during a very uneasy time. Many restaurants were still trying to figure out how to open or remain open to any extent and we were pumping out more doughnuts than ever. We considered ourselves very lucky.

But the real takeaway isn’t about COVID, or how we survived.
It’s about what we learned, and what we did with that information.

We realized our weekly prime cost percentages were beyond healthy. Our staffing headaches decreased tremendously. We went from an average weekly payroll of 160 employees, during our busy season, to around 90. That’s almost half the staff we normally needed to successfully run our business. Sure, sales decreased overall but payroll and food cost declines more than made up for the change.  In 2021 the world opened a little, but we decided to continue to serve outside only. We made take out windows out of regular windows and even had a mobile cart we would wheel outside on occasion.

Before we reopened our doors to guests in April of 2022, we did a lot of amazing renovations we would have never had been able to do otherwise. We created new and inviting spaces and fixed maintenance issues in the back of house that had been ignored for many years.  We rebranded Congdon’s as “Café Style” dining, allowing our guests to order their food at the counter and then seat themselves. Most loved it, but some were VERY upset that the full-service dining room was gone. We knew the changes we made could all transform back to the “old way”, but we also knew it wasn’t the right way forward. This new system was smooth, it was calm, it was nothing we had ever witnessed in the history of Congdon’s chaos. 

The decision to keep the full-service restaurant closed was our own. One that did not come lightly. We took a hard look at our expenses and the best option for Congdon’s was clear. And now, it’s been proven to be true. We’ve eliminated a lot of food waste, lowered food costs and lessened payroll expenses. Like all small Business Owners, we have struggled with hiring but without a need for trained cooks and experienced waitstaff, we have been able to hire and train an abundance of 14 to 18-year-olds successfully to be the face of Congdon’s (and provide them with life skills they may have not gotten elsewhere.) Where our speed and volume used to demand 7 experienced line cooks, our kitchen now constructs breakfast burritos, breakfast bowls and a few other quick serve items that a 17-year-old with no experience can easily learn.

 We will keep moving forward. We will also keep improving and adding other revenue streams to the mix. But as far as we can see, full-service dining is not returning to Congdon’s Doughnuts in sunny Wells, Maine.

Thanks Jill & Gary. With that we ask you – What is holding your business back? What change seems so right, but so insurmountable? What have you been longing to do, to reinvent, to rearrange? At one time, this change was unimaginable for Jill & Gary. Now, they can’t imagine going back. In 2023 what could turn your business upside down, for the better?

Gary Leech and Jillian Shomphe, Owners of Congdon’s Doughnuts Family Restaurant, Newsletter Contributors and Royalty Rewards® Merchant since 2007.