BRUNSWICK — Brian Burton remembers when Fat Boy Drive-In stayed open into the late fall.

He has memories of his father, Ken Burton, behind the grill on Halloween, dressed as Dracula, he said, though the long-running family business typically closed over Columbus Day weekend. As the years have gone on, closing day for the seasonal restaurant has crept earlier and earlier, and this year, owners Ken and Jeanne Burton decided to close up shop for the season on Labor Day.

Fat Boy Drive-In closed for the season after Labor Day. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Cooks at Fat Boy have been flipping burgers and frying onion rings since 1955, but Jeanne Burton said Friday that they have “no idea what’s going to go on” next year.

Fat Boy has been for sale since last December, and despite an initial flurry of interest, the business remains on the market. Ken Burton said this spring that there were some initial offers on the restaurant, which is listed for $1.15 million, but that they “weren’t what we expected,” and activity has since died down.

Initial reports that the business was closing for good proved incorrect when Fat Boy opened for the season at the end of March.

It was a good season, Jeanne Burton said, and what looked like a cold and rainy start to the summer gave way to beautiful weather – people came from all over, she said, and while the Burtons always have had their regulars, they saw many news faces, too.

After more than 60 years in Brunswick, customers have a long list of favorites and look forward to the frappes, onion rings, BLTs and lobster rolls – what one community member called “Brunswick comfort food.”

As much of a staple as Fat Boy has been for the community, it also has been so for the staff, and Jeanne Burton said they were like a family.

“Every one of them I’ve loved like my own, in a way,” she said.

But the restaurant has had trouble attracting help in recent years, something Jamie Alexander, the Burtons’ daughter, said she has seen mirrored across the state.

In 2016, they ended the season early with just half their usual staff.

The original business model was set up to help high school kids learn how to work, she said, but this year, of their 28 employees, only two were high-schoolers.

“You don’t really see a lot of young kids working anywhere,” Brian Burton said. Back in the 1990s, when he and Alexander started running things after college, it was easier. “There were so many applicants. There were more people in town and fewer jobs.”

But then the Brunswick Naval Air Station closed “and the whole town changed,” Alexander said.

Thousands of people, including families with high school children, left town. Redevelopment at the former Navy base, now Brunswick Landing, has picked up and the town is “starting to recover,” Alexander said, but staffing levels are not what they used to be.

The remaining young employees – high school and college students – have to go back to school in August and September, and facing too many “day and night” shifts to make up for the missing employees, they have been closing earlier.

The Burtons have run the restaurant for more than 30 years after taking over for Ken’s father, and their children and grandchildren have worked there, too.

“We’re burnt out,” Brian Burton said.

Alexander agreed: “It’s hard work,” she said.

“We carried on what was started in 1955,” Jeanne Burton said. “That’s saying something, carrying a business for 64 years.”

The family is ready to hand over the reins and let someone breathe new life into the restaurant, maybe even “bring it into the 21st century,” she said, but they want to make sure it goes to the right person.

“We care about it,” Alexander said. “We don’t want it to be just some Joe Schmo. We want our customers to keep coming back.”

It’s time for the Burtons to move on, Jeanne Burton said, and though Fat Boy’s future remains uncertain, “time will tell.”


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