Don's Lunch Van hasn't changed much since its inception in 1976. The concept — simple but delicious fare for a low price all day and most of the night — has remained the same, and the business even belongs to the Richards family again, after original owners Don and Yvonne Richards once sold it to their employee. Locals love all this about the burger truck; many of the positive reviews over the years have emphasized the low prices at the family spot, sometimes even referring to them as "local prices."
Unfortunately, it seems the concept may not be a financially viable one. According to a piece in the Press Herald, Don's Lunch Van has been shut down because it owes $4,400 in state sales tax to Maine Revenue Services. Justin Richards, son of current owner Jim Richards and grandson of the original owners, said although business has doubled in the past few years, "the slow winter months are a problem" and the family had to decide whether to pay the tax or their eight non-family employees. "We were forced to choose which to pay and unfortunately sales tax payments fell behind," the younger Richards told the paper.
Naturally, the company's Facebook page has been flooded with comments on both sides of the issue, including those from supporters who wish the company well and even want to donate to help the company pay off its debt, as well as plenty from whose advice is "Pay your damn taxes."
Already the good intentions of some fans have been taken advantage of, as someone calling himself "Jay Violette" hastily set up an unofficial GoFundMe page seeking to "Save Don's Lunch." Some cautious fans noted that the campaign, based in Florida and calling for an absurd, round sum of $25,000, was fishy. Don's Lunch Van waded into the fray, declaring, "PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ANY AND ALL FUNDRAISER PAGES ARE NOT UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF DON'S LUNCH VAN." Nevertheless, more than one Facebook commenter said they had contributed to the fake campaign before it was shut down.
To their credit, representatives of Don's Lunch Van are stating clearly that they don't want handouts. "We appreciate the sentiment, but ask that all you provide is your well-wishes and moral support. We will face this adversity and hope for the best results possible. Thank you all very much though," the business page remarked in another Facebook comment.
And so the real question remains: how can the business ever support itself? Under the current model, Jim Richards' wife works as a bank teller and Justin is a juvenile program worker on top of helping with the family business. They pay rent on both the truck and the building behind their parking spot, according to Justin. He also said that as a small, family-owned business, "We do not have a huge profit margin." That's an understatement when business doubles and they still find themselves under water.
Would finding a permanent home with a single rent help? Would loyal customers remain loyal if the family increased prices? The prices may be low, but it appears they're not actually fair — to the business, that is.