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Stonyfield Cafe closes after more than 10 years in Falmouth

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Stonyfield Cafe closes after more than 10 years in Falmouth

FALMOUTH — A popular Route 1 restaurant closed unexpectedly Monday after company officials said they were unable to overcome revenue lost since the 2008 economic downturn.

Employees of Stonyfield Cafe (formerly O'Naturals) were notified Sunday that the cafe would close, Chief Executive Officer Mac McCabe said.

"We fought through (the downturn) with the optimism it would come back," McCabe said, noting dinner business never picked up. "It's too big a space for the  kinds of revenues we were putting through there."

The shutdown leaves 14 people out of work. McCabe said their average tenure was 6 1/2 years; two people were employed for 11 years.

O'Naturals opened in May 2001 at 240 Route 1. Gary Hirshberg, the founder of Stonyfield Farms (who stepped down as the New Hampshire company's CEO in January), developed the concept while traveling with his family and feeling "like a hostage to the world of junk food," according to a company history.

O'Naturals, and then Stonyfield Cafe, provided cafeteria-style dining with an emphasis on natural, locally sourced foods prepared quickly and to order. It also sold signature flatbread loaves baked on the premises, provided space and fundraising opportunities for community groups, and an indoor play area for small children.

At its height, the company had restaurants in Falmouth, Portland's Old Port, Boston and Somerville, Mass. It also participated in food sales at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York. Only the Falmouth location remained, until now.

McCabe said he and Hirshberg met with Stonyfield Cafe employees on Sunday to tell them about the closing, and their message that was met with much sadness.

"That's the part that is awful," he said. "That is emotionally the most difficult part."

"These are some of the most incredible service people you'll ever meet in your life," he continued. "This is a family."

While the announcement may have seemed sudden, McCabe said it was "not a complete surprise" to employees, because for the past six months the restaurant was "bare bones" on hours to meet expenses. He said he has already been in contact with one business interested in hiring Stonyfield Cafe employees.

McCabe said the cafe had a loyal customer base, but it wasn't large enough. Some customers ate at the cafe every week for 10 years, he said.

"The people part is really the hardest part," he said.

McCabe said company officials have no plans for the future at this time.

A letter posted on the door and on the cafe's Facebook and web pages Monday morning said the closure was announced with "extraordinary sadness."

"Since the economic downturn in 2008, our revenues have never recovered enough to keep us going. We have postponed this decision for as long as we could, but we have now reached the point where it is no longer financially viable for us to keep going," the letter said.

The letter continued, "Many of you have been with us for 10 years. Some of you have been weekly or even more frequent guests since the day we opened. You have become our friends. We know you by name and what you like to order without your even saying it."

A box of Stonyfield hats, clothing items, and toys from the restaurant's children's play area sat outside the cafe Monday afternoon for anyone to take. A note on the items said "If you loved us show your pride."

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow Gillian on Twitter: @grahamgillian.