Wayne: Remembering Carburs Restaurant in Burlington, VT & Portland, ME

I started working at Carburs kitchen in Burlington Vermont in August of 1977.  Little did I know then, that for the next 12 years I would become completely enmeshed in the company and in the restaurant business.

After working in Burlington for almost two years, the opportunity to become part of the management team in Portland came up.  I jumped at the chance with the caveat expressed to ownership that as soon as a position became available in Burlington, I would be allowed to move back.  As irony would have it two years later I was asked to return to Burlington, but Portland, by that time had become the place I wanted to make my permanent home.

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Because Carburs was a young and flexible place to work (by 1982 standards mind you), I was allowed to assume a corporate position while remaining in Portland.  This would involve a great deal of travel between restaurant locations for me over the next five years but I was happy to have the chance at greater professional responsibility while still calling Maine my home.

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As with most restaurants, the menu  plays a large part in how the business is perceived.  In the case of Carburs, the menu was the signature “brand” that made it such a unique and fun place to dine.  Because the menu offered a very large selection of sandwiches and other fare there was ample opportunity to “name” the items for local personalities and places.  Although this may not have been completely new concept at the time, the owner’s flare for the clever and unique raised the bar considerably. 

From the Carburs entry in the 1977 Grub ‘n Grog Guide by Judith and Paul Yochum:

“The Flashback (Discovered by an exhibitionist with his trenchcoat on backwards): Turkey breast, bacon, blue cheese dressing, avocado spread, lettuce & tomato.”

“This is a new restaurant on the Portland scene- the slogan on the sign is ‘Famous Since 1977’- we think this sign will still be hanging there in 2077!”

“Even though only two weeks old at the time of this writing, they have run out of menus to sell (they had 500 available) and they already have long lines at lunchtime!”

In 1984, with an eye towards the restaurant concept expanding to more locations, it was decided to “homogenize” the menu to give it a broader appeal.  With some trepidation (many of us old timers feared the loss of local flavor) the new “generic” menu was rolled out in all locations. While the menu was a success, the company was also experiencing growing pains as founding partners differed on the best direction for expansion plans. In early 1986 those differences eventually led to the company splitting up the locations between partners and interested upper management.  At that time I became a partner in the Portland operation and decided that returning the menu to a “local” format was a priority.  

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Reagan’s Third Term (People say it’s “Bush” league, we say that’s a lot of Kennebunk)

I took it upon myself to engage many of our loyal and notable customers to see if they would be interested in being part of our new, and again “local” Carburs menu.  The overall response was very enthusiastic as most people enjoy seeing their name, product or company in print in a fun and novel way.  Including these people and their businesses with clever puns and references was good fun and a great challenge.  With the help of a local budding artist, Helen Rasmussen (who happened to be a bartender at Carburs because there are a lot of budding artists in the restaurant business),  the new menu was born. 

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Kim Block’s report (Any new is good news)

Averyl suggested that I recreate some of the menu items in future blog posts if there is an interest. Let us know what you think! 


12 thoughts on “Wayne: Remembering Carburs Restaurant in Burlington, VT & Portland, ME

  1. I enjoyed MANY Happy Hours at the Carbur’s in Hadley MA in the late 1970s. By any chance, would you have the recipe for the dry rub that was on the Happy Hour wings, or perhaps the dip they were served with? The dip was a whitish color, but definitely not blue cheese or ranch. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi- Wayne said he’s not able to provide that recipe since he never worked at that location so doesn’t know the answer. Thanks for checking, though.


  2. My wife and I used to visit the Carbur’s in Portland whenever we were in that part of Maine. She dearly misses the sunshine sauce they used to put on burgers. Would you know the recipe (or, if it was commercially available, the brand)? Any info would be greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kevin, we always made the sauce in 2 gallon batches and I am going from memory (a little foggy). You may need to fine tune the ratios a bit to suit your taste.
      1 quart mayonnaise
      10 oz honey
      6 oz of red wine vinegar
      2 tsp finely ground white pepper
      1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce.
      The sauce should be “just” pourable in consistency. Give that a try and let us know how it works out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve Heald
    I went to NORWICH University and spent a lot of time in Burlington. I fell in love with Mrs Brick houses brunch. Does anyone know the original recipe.?? I am dying to have one!!


    1. Adam, As much as I might try to forget the jingle, it will always haunt me as an ear worm. Sung to a circus/sideshow calliope tune that was written by Michael McInnis (his sister worked as manager at the restaurant)……. “We’ll go to Carburs, let’s go to Carburs, they gotta a menu ten miles long! With combinations like the Flashback, or the Juicy Suzy Wong”. Then the silly music went on and a radio voice over talked up whatever we were featuring that week or month. There may have been more words but I don’t remember those (just the damn calliope piping along crazily!). It was exclusively for radio, a bunch of the early crazies from WBLM were involved in the production as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was a Navy pilot stationed at NAS Brunswick from 1977 to 1980. Quite often my fellow pilots and I would come down to Portland to eat at Carburs. That was always a lot of fun, especially when someone ordered the Downeast Feast. Later when I did Portland layovers with United, I was disappointed to find that Carburs was gone (and Dimillos was about three times more expensive than it used to be.)

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