NORWAY — When Ari’s Pizza and Subs abruptly closed its doors after 29 years in business on Friday, July 15, many in the greater Norway community were shocked and saddened to hear the news. After a tremendous outpouring of support from the community, owner Chris Farrar and his wife, Josee, decided to reopen the Main Street business five days a week.
The closing was announced Friday on Ari’s Facebook page in a semi-cryptic posting:
“Thank you for 29 years. I’m tired and overwhelmed. Closing Ari’s today has been long tough decision. Been a lot of good memories. Time to make a life change. Thank you all I’ve had so many great customers and employees,” it read.
When Andrea Burns, a Norway Downtown board member, heard the news, she said she responded emotionally because “Ari’s has been a landmark for decades and Chris has been at the helm.”
“It is understandable that his working schedule has been demanding and his dependency on good staff is significant,” she said on Monday, July 18. “We are all impacted by the suddenness of Ari’s closing but at the same time, we want what’s best for Chris and his family.”
When Farrar sat down with the Advertiser Democrat on Tuesday, July 19, he said feeling tired, burned out and frustrated with the restaurant fueled his initial, unplanned decision to shutter the doors to make up for lost time with his family.
“It’s not a financial decision, it’s a family decision,” he said. “I was working a lot. I was tired. At my age (48), the 100-hour weeks need to stop. … I’ve been having a hard time over the last few years now that I am getting older. I’m not 19 anymore. Ari’s is actually busier.”
Farrar opened Ari’s Pizza in November 1987 at the age of 19 as a way to provide for his growing family.
“He’s worked 30 years and never had a day off,” Josee said.
Often the couple would arrive at 6:30 a.m. to make the dough, bake the bread and other baked goods and get the restaurant ready for the day and they would not leave until after closing at 9 p.m.
“People don’t realize we actually do make the food here, which I am sure is less and less common. With my ego, I am not willing to lower my product to make it easier,” Farrar said. “I’ve actually added on what’s fresh here.”
Josee added their grandchildren are growing up fast and they want to spend more time with them, which is why Chris’ compromise is going from being open seven days a week to five.
“My kids grew up in this restaurant with me,” Farrar said about his son, Jordan, and daughter, Amanda. “My grandkids are here some. … I want people to know it was time for a change.”
The couple emphasized the sudden closing – and now reopening – wasn’t planned. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was an employee not showing up for work and three others who wouldn’t cover the shift. That’s when Farrar threw in the towel and made the post on Facebook about closing.
But it was that very post and nearly three decades of being in the community that unbroken the camel’s back.
By Monday afternoon, 207 people shared the Facebook post, 314 liked or reacted to it and there were 212 comments, many of which offered support, well wishes and memories of the restaurant.
“The community support has been unbelievable,” Josee said. “We have been so blessed with so many people who have loved Ari’s. … We can’t believe how many people have reached out.”
The same sentiment shared online about the closing announcement was evident downtown. Norway resident Richard Valeriani, who sat on the bench outside of Ari’s after the closing announcement, said he liked bringing his grandkids to the restaurant and would miss eating there.
“It’s a shame,” he said.
The community’s reaction weighed heavily on Farrar’s mind over the weekend, which ultimately made him have a change of heart about closing his business.
“I feel like I’m letting people down, even when I see those posts I feel like I’m letting people down,” he said. “I also let family down for a lot of years.”
Josee said it felt good “to know there is so many people out there supporting him even if he closes.”
The couple said they turned to a higher power regarding the decision they both felt torn about.
“I’ve been praying and asking God for help,” Farrar said, noting he asked God to “guide me through this.”
The couple met with their pastor Tuesday morning to talk about life and the restaurant. Shortly after the meeting, they decided to reopen the business five days a week and make it work for their family and the community.
“When I walked away Friday, I was done until this morning,” Farrar said Tuesday, adding he closed his business early only one other time in his 29 years. “To close, I’m walking away from a lot of relationships I’m not ready to walk away from. … All their support makes it worth being here.”
But the couple had to put a stop to the wheels they already set in motion, as vendors began collecting stock on Monday. The Coca-Cola representative, who hadn’t received the memo about the reopening, showed up Tuesday to gather products that will now remain in the restaurant.
“The thought of someone tearing down those Ari’s signs last night was killing me. Those people on Facebook thought they were having a hard time, [but I really was],” Farrar said. “The restaurant is more to me than money. … I’m not ready to quit, Josee’s not ready to quit.”
The couple decided they will reopen from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and take weekends off.
“I think we’ll enjoy it better,” Josee said. “We do love our jobs. We very much enjoy cooking and making food and giving it to people and knowing they’re having a good meal.”
Ari’s is tentatively scheduled to reopen for business on Monday, July 25. A new Facebook post announcing the reopening went viral around the Oxford Hills. As of press time, there were 221 likes and reactions, 83 shares and 47 comments.
The couple agreed they needed a break from the business to realize they needed to take time for themselves and their family, but could still balance doing what they love and serving the community.
Farrar has already figured out and embraced his new motto.
“My new menus are going to say, ‘Thank God it’s Friday.,’” he said, laughing.
Editor’s Note: We are thrilled that Ari’s will stay open albeit with abbreviated hours. The editorial on 1B was written prior to Chris Farrar’s decision to stay open five days a week. The back sections had gone to press by the time he made the decision. Nevertheless, the sentiment remains the same. The only difference might be the last sentence. Instead we say: Thank you Chris!