For Gene Prentice, Augusta is the kind of place where a Five Guys Burgers and Fries can make a go of it.

“It’s a trade area,” Prentice said.

As a service center, Augusta draws people from surrounding towns and across the region to work, to shop and, most importantly for Prentice’s interests, to eat.

“I’ve been looking at Augusta for a long time, up and down Western Avenue,” Prentice said recently.

The site he chose was a restaurant space in Journal Square, the former location of the Kennebec Journal, which has now been redeveloped into a retail complex. The announcement came earlier this year from Northland Enterprises, the complex’s developer.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries is one of three chain restaurants that are expected to open in Augusta in the coming months. Prentice said an invitation-only event is scheduled for Dec. 4 with an opening for the general public the next day.


It will be joined by a Taco Bell on the site of the former Tim Horton’s at 230 Western Ave. and an International House of Pancakes adjacent to the Best Western Plus on Community Drive near the Augusta Civic Center.

Opening dates for those restaurants have not been made public yet. The Taco Bell has been issued a certificate of occupancy from the city of Augusta, but it doesn’t yet have its victualers license. Work is now underway to transform the former Rooster’s restaurant into an IHOP.

With a population of 18,741, Augusta might not ordinarily draw this level of chain restaurant development.

“On a per capita basis, we probably have one of the highest counts of restaurants of any community our size in the state,” said Keith Luke, the city’s deputy director of development services, who is responsible for economic development for Augusta.

“If you take our community, including Hallowell, there is an overabundance of eateries of every type in every category,” Luke said.

But when national chains and developers with franchise rights are looking for new markets, he said, they base their decisions on factors like traffic counts, what retailers are present and what properties are managed by national management companies.


“The decisions are based on spreadsheet-style calculations,” Luke said. “If you don’t have the numbers, you are not going to get the restaurant.”

Some location decisions are apparently based on a certain amont of wheeling and dealing, he said. If a developer wants prime location from a real estate management company, it might have to agree to open restaurants in some less-ideal locations.

“It can be difficult on the local level to appreciate some of the dealing that goes on,” he said. “We’re just positioned to appreciate how or when these decisions are made.”

The economy also plays a role in the process of opening new restaurants. The National Restaurant Association, which tracks restaurant performance, also follows economic indicators like employment numbers and wage growth that affect people’s decisions to spend money on eating out.

In its most recent report issued in September, the association noted that while economic trends have been positive, restaurant operators surveyed are not certain that they will continue in coming months. Only 17 percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in the next six months, while 29 percent say it will worsen. The remaining 52 percent say conditions will be unchanged.

For Prentice, the Five Guys franchise owner who also has restaurants in Portland, South Portland and Brunswick, people seem excited about his move into Augusta.


“The space we’re going into is new construction,” he said. “It’s got visibility to the road and it’s high up and accessible. It’s a good site for us.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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