MOOSE CREEK, Maine — A crafty restaurant patron has used the age-old rule “the customer is always right” to gain ownership of every last eatery in this idyllic town of 8500. Becky Kunhardt says the idea came to her in early October when she was having breakfast with her husband and two children at Owen’s Bistro. When Kunhardt complained to the owner that the waitress had ignored the 38-year-old dental assistant’s request that her eggs be cooked “over easy,” the owner promised he’d fix the mistake, adding, “The customer is always right.”
Kunhardt jumped on the owner’s legally binding words, ordering 56-year-old Arlin Greenlee — who bought the restaurant in 2006 from his brother-in-law — to hand over all the money in the cash register. When he angrily complied, Kunhardt realized she had stumbled upon a loophole that could potentially make her big money, allowing her husband to quit his grueling job at the sewage plant.
After ordering the entire staff to empty the contents their pockets into a sack, Kunhardt told Greenlee to send everyone home and immediately begin renovations. She had never liked the folksy decor, and she found the zinc bar totally inappropriate for a breakfast and lunch cafe.
After having Greenlee shell out more than $50,000 to redo the restaurant’s interior, she ordered him to sign the title of ownership over to her. Furious but unable to refuse, he did so, afterwards moving with his wife to nearby Bangor to take up residency with his elderly parents.
Kunhardt didn’t stop there. She went all around town, in a matter of days gobbling up every bar, coffee shop, and restaurant, leaving stunned proprietors without legal recourse.
Residents say Kunhardt took pleasure in the takeovers, often giving bizarre or degrading orders to staff members just before firing them. At Julie’s Bagels and Subs, Kunhardt — a well-known Broadway fan — forced three sandwich-makers to form a chorus line and sing “Send in the Clowns.” And before acquiring the Denny’s off Highway 201, the savvy entrepreneur told the cooks to make her a bacon and cheddar omelette 50 feet in diameter.
Suddenly rich but aware that the former owners might enter her eateries as customers and demand their property back, Kunhardt compelled the town’s board of selectmen to pass a midnight ordinance nullifying the 150-year-old rule about customers always being right.
Kunhardt now owns 32 establishments, including three pizzerias, two bakeries, a steakhouse in operation since the 1950s, a Dairy Queen, a Subway, infamous Chinese buffet restaurant Li Hing, and the famed Old Englander Pub, which was voted in 2009 as offering “the best pot pie” in central Maine. She and her husband have plans to use their newly acquired wealth to design and build a flying yacht.
“We’re all just devastated,” said former McDonald’s franchisee Patricia Bilodeau, who will no longer be able to afford sending her children to private school. “Let this disaster be a warning to other municipalities that attempt to codify good customer service. Maybe we should rethink this whole caveat emptor thing. Let the restaurant owner beware.”