VASSALBORO — On Tuesday morning, a small sign hung in front of the log cabin-style building, listing the hours: 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
The outside windows were covered with promotional posters for New England Coffee. Up the entrance ramp to the front door, another sign: “Over 18 only” — and another at the door: “No cameras, no touching, cash only.” A man in a white dress shirt kept watch at the front door.
Inside, two men sipped coffee at their booth; the rest of the tables were empty. There are 15 tables, with room enough for 58 people.
On Tuesday, inside were three topless women, one topless man and owner Donald Crabtree in a dress shirt and tie. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was playing.
Brothers Dick and Rene Brochu of Augusta, ages 60 and 59, said they decided to stop by the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop after hearing about it from friends. Both men are retired.
“I really hope it works,” Dick Brochu said of the business. “It’s different. I kind of like it. If you don’t like it, I say don’t come in, stay away.”
Implying that criticism of the coffee shop has been overblown, Rene Brochu said, “The evil is in your head.”
To the chagrin of some residents, the shop on Belfast Avenue opened its doors Monday. More than 50 opponents turned out for Planning Board hearings in January, but despite complaints, town officials said there was nothing they could do to stop Crabtree from opening the business.
The coffee shop is in a former motel, which has been the site of many businesses in the last several years, and is located on a sparse stretch of Route 3 just over the Augusta line. It was most recently Mac Daddy’s Pub at the Fat Cat Grille, which closed several years ago.
Eight customers — all men — stopped by the coffee shop between 10 and 11:15 a.m. Tuesday. Staff members estimated they had between 50 and 60 customers on Monday, despite a snowstorm; of those customers, about
eight were women, they said.
Aside from the Brochu brothers, the other customers in the shop Tuesday morning declined to give their names or comment.
Topless waitress Susie Wiley, 23, of Farmingdale, said she went for the job because it’s “something different” and said she’s worked in coffee shops since she was a teenager.
Asked whether the shop is degrading to women, Wiley said, “No, I love it. I find it very empowering, not degrading.”
For now, the menu at the shop is slim: Just cups of New England Coffee ($3 each) and donuts made from Chase Farm Bakery in Whitefield ($2 each). Crabtree said he may offer more food if business picks up.
Elvis Thompson, 32, of Brunswick, was the lone male waiter at the coffee shop Tuesday morning, though he said there are two other male waiters.
Thompson, topless and wearing black boots and black shorts, said he was laid off from another job two weeks ago and then saw an advertisement for the coffee shop.
During the first day, Monday, Thompson said he waited on two ladies, one of whom told him she had been opposed to the business but now she thinks it’s great.
Topless waitress Kris Kelley, 43, of Windham, said her previous restaurant experience was managing a pizzeria in Hawaii.
Kelley said criticism of the shop is “ridiculous.”
“It’s just a body part,” she said. “There are more serious issues to worry about in this country than something like this.”
Kelley said she gets along with all her co-workers and customers: “We’re one big happy family.”
Contacted on Tuesday, resident Paula Furbush, who was critical of the coffee shop when it was proposed to the Planning Board, said she had not realized the business had opened.
“I definitely think it’s not a good idea. I’ve lived in town my whole life and we’ve never had anything like this,” Furbush said.
Lisa Breton, a resident for 23 years, said she was surprised the coffee shop opened up.
“I don’t believe it’s going to pan out, not in a small community like this,” Breton said. “People move to these small towns because they don’t want to deal with bars and adult video stores and a topless coffee shop. It’s important for towns to have an ordinance written so things like this can’t happen.”
Crabtree said he does not pay his staff a regular wage; all their earnings come from customer tips, mostly ranging from $5 to $20.
On Tuesday morning, Kelley brought coffee to a male customer, who gulped down about half of the cup during
a couple minutes, handed Kelley a $100 bill and left without saying a word.
Topless waitress Ginni Labree, 34, of Palermo, wore fluorescent electric pink nail polish and has a tattoo of a rose on her arm. Labree said she has previous experience as a store manager and used to work in dance clubs.
Although “most people have been respectful,” Labree said she did encounter inappropriate behavior on Monday when an intoxicated couple came in. The male attempted to touch
her, but she backed away. “I told them, ‘Hey, we can’t touch.’” Labree said she doesn’t mind hugging customers or shaking hands.
Labree said she enjoys chatting with people and she has received many compliments from customers, such as “you’re pretty, nice body, nice tattoos and you’re very colorful.”
“I haven’t had anybody leave without a smile yet,” she said.
Crabtree said he interviewed 150 people for the positions and narrowed the field to 10. Crabtree said he selected people who were the friendliest and comfortable being topless. “We want to keep the girls respectable, not trashy,” said Crabtree, who lives in the motel attached to the shop. “The biggest thing is keeping people happy.”
I really love the last quote…from the guy who lives in a motel And the fact that it has topless male waiters too! I wonder if Elvis has a 6 pack…
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