Economics force Brunswick's Frontier Cafe to make changes

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BRUNSWICK — A well-known local restaurant and arts venue is entering its sixth year in business with changes it hopes will provide a financial boost.

Over the next month, Frontier Cafe-Cinema-Gallery is expanding its kitchen, adding additional seating areas and designing a new dinner menu. In addition, the restaurant in Fort Andross at 14 Maine St. will forgo deli-style service for full table service with waitstaff.

Owner Michael Gilroy said the changes should allow the restaurant to better serve customers, and hopefully attract more of them.

With the high overhead costs that come with heating and cooling a large space in an old mill, plus the expense of booking art shows, musicians and events, Frontier has struggled financially, especially in the past year and a half, according to Gilroy.

The restaurant has a fairly steady lunch crowd, but nights can be slow and are driven by the evening’s cultural event.

“If the event doesn’t draw a crowd, we can almost guarantee a very quiet evening,” he said, because many customers don’t think of Frontier as a place to have dinner.

When there is a popular evening event, he said, long lines often form at the food counter, making it difficult to quickly order another drink or dessert.

Gilroy hopes table service and an expanded dinner menu will reduce waiting time and draw more people to the restaurant at night, regardless of what film or band is playing.

Although he wouldn’t give details about the new dinner menu, Gilroy said many of the recipes were inspired by staff and their travels. He said  he wants to expose diners to food from different cultures, while keeping the menu accessible, recognizable and full of local ingredients.

Frontier is also changing its business model.

The arts and programming portion of the enterprise has been entirely subsidized by the cafe. Now Gilroy is spinning off that portion of the business as a nonprofit organization, which will allow him to seek grants and donations in addition to relying on revenue from the restaurant.

Both changes are ultimately about trying to keep Frontier in business.

“We don’t feel comfortable relying on our model as it stands right now to weather our ongoing economic situation,” Gilroy said.

Expanding the restaurant and forming a nonprofit were both part of the business plan since the beginning, but the necessity for change came earlier than Gilroy said he expected.

He said he hopes that customers won’t be scared off by the changes and the short periods of time the restaurant will have to close in the next month for renovations.

“Our real focus is on what we have right now and making it stronger so we can continue to do what we do well, but also provide the framework to do what we do better,” he said.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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