Stonyfield Cafe, aka O’Naturals, closes in Falmouth

It appears that the Stonyfield Café in Falmouth – once known as O’Naturals – has closed its doors, having never fully recovered from the recession.

On its Facebook page, the popular eatery wrote today:

It is with extraordinary sadness that we announce that we have closed the café permanently. 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.

Many of you have been with us for over ten 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.

We will be eternally grateful to you for your caring and support and your shared commitment to healthy food. We will miss you all.

The O’Naturals story goes back to 2001, when Stonyfield Yogurt founder Gary Hirshberg opened what was to be a prototype natural/organic quick service restaurant that was envisioned to become a regional chain.

The next year, O’Naturals expanded to a second, prominent location in Portland’s Old Port, on Exchange Street. The chain featured soups, flatbread sandwiches and an overall “sustainable” theme. (There were tiny placards everywhere in the restaurant, letting consumers know about how various materials were sourced, or how certain plumbing helped conserve water.)

But the high-rent, ultra-competitive environment of the Old Port didn’t work out for O’Naturals, and it closed that location in 2009.

O’Naturals co-founder and CEO Mac McCabe told me this afternoon that the recession hit both Maine locations hard – though Portland was significantly impacted.

“Obviously Portland first took the big hit when the whole of downtown Portland just sort of collapsed,” said McCabe. “Falmouth slowed down simultaneously, though not as bad.”

In the last few years, the Regal Cinema movie theater in Falmouth also closed. That business had once provided strong dinner numbers to O’Naturals, said McCabe, and its absence hurt.

“Over time, lunch came back, but dinner never really came back,” he said.

McCabe said about 14 people work at the restaurant. He’s disappointed for the closure, both for its impact on workers, and on local vendors that the restaurant worked with.

“We ran it as tight as we possibly could – it just got to the point where we didn’t have enough sales to cover expenses,” said McCabe. “Our core customer base has never stopped being loyal – but the core customer base wasn’t enough.”

In 2010, O’Naturals decided to rebrand to take advantage of the name recognition of Stoneyfield. But apparently that ultimately was not successful.

The O’Naturals concept was predicated on a consumer base that prioritized natural and organic foods, said McCabe. But even people who were fanatic about their grocery selections were less discriminating when it came to eating out, he said. He added that the advent of Whole Foods in Portland, which serves a lot of meals, likely also hurt his business as a direct competitor for the same market.

“We hung on, we were optimistic for a long time and it never got back to 2008,” said McCabe.

O’Naturals also listed locations at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, at Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tuscon, Ariz., and at the Genesis Health Club in Wichita, Kan. Those are franchises, McCabe said, not impacted by this news