How new owners plan to sustain Caribou’s legacy businesses

10 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine — When longtime business owners decide to move on, it’s not easy for newcomers to keep the establishment’s character while trying new things.

That’s especially true in a state where 80 percent of businesses are family-owned and younger generations are increasingly choosing  not to take over family businesses. Most recently, the well-known Aroostook businesses Hogan Tire and Theriault Equipment were sold to out-of-state companies, but with the new owners vowing to keep the same local family vibes.

In Caribou, the newest merchants say they want to maintain the character of the businesses they acquired, preserving some of the city’s personality.

When Richard and Sandy Bechard decided to leave the restaurant business, they soon realized that their successors were not too far away. In fact, they were Friday night regulars and family members.

John Rossignol and Richard Bechard are first cousins. Rossignol and his wife Rae, who live in Woodland, had contemplated starting a restaurant since moving back to Aroostook 20 years ago, but that never panned out. 

Today, the Rossignols own Bechard’s Grille at Caribou’s Skyway Plaza. It’s been quite the busy last three weeks as they transition to new roles, but well worth the tradition they are continuing.

“We knew we would keep the name [Bechard’s] because it’s a family business,” Rae Rossignol said on Tuesday, when the restaurant reopened to the public. 

Richard Bechard (left) gets ready to fire up some french fries with Rae Rossignol, one of the new owners of Bechard’s Grille in Caribou. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The Rossignols have plans to give Bechard’s their personal touches, including a Saturday morning breakfast menu, adding deejay and band nights, holding paint and sip events and a space for Rae to sell ceramics and other artwork.

But with the Bechards staying on until November, the Rossignols are learning how to prepare the restaurant’s famous pizza, scallops, subs, poutines and other specials while reassuring locals that not much is different.

“People have been glad to see that the menu has not changed. It’s the same Bechard’s they knew and loved three weeks ago,” Rae Rossignol said.

Richard and Sandy Bechard first opened the Caribou Bechard’s in 2019 after relocating their business from Van Buren. They will be “snowbirds” in Florida this winter and are relieved to see their business thrive under familiar owners.

“It’s great to have a family legacy continue,” Sandy Bechard said. “People love this place and now they don’t have to worry about it stopping.”

Not all businesses are passed down between families, but other young entrepreneurs in Caribou are still committed to keeping their businesses’ special characters.

Kelly and Kevin Godin are the new owners of Godin’s Service, formerly Wardwell’s Service, on Herschel Street in Caribou. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

In May, Kevin and Kelly Godin took over Wardwell’s Service on Herschel Street after previous owners Rod and Kim Wardwell retired. The Godins have since renamed the automotive shop Godin’s Service.

Godin’s has a long history in Caribou. The business first opened in the 1980s as Roland’s Service, named after owner Roland St. Peter, who died in 2012. Rod and Kim Wardwell took over in 2007 after St. Peter sold the business.

Kevin Godin has loved fixing cars since he was a child. After graduating from Caribou High School in 2011, he worked for the local Ford dealership and then at Wardwell’s. When the Wardwells retired, he and Kelly jumped at the chance to own the shop.

“We’ve basically kept everything except the name,” Kevin Godin said. 

Godin’s has kept the same services as Wardwell’s, including vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs and factory-brand oil filters and synthetics. They will soon put up a new exterior sign bearing their name and upgrade their building’s facade.

Other than that, customers should not expect major changes.

“We have customers who have been coming here since Roland, so we didn’t want to make things more different than they had to be,” Kevin Godin said.

A commitment to local customers also motivates Ben Adams of Houlton, who took over the Plourde & Plourde snowmobile dealership on Laurette Street in Caribou last September.

Ben Adams is the new owner of the Plourde & Plourde snowmobile dealership in Caribou. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Adams acquired Plourde & Plourde from previous owner Bob Plourde, who purchased the shop from his father’s business partner, Leo Kieffer, in 1971. Adams, a Caribou native, has owned Houlton PowerSports for 25 years. 

Since taking over Plourde & Plourde, which he plans to rename, Adams has expanded the shop’s inventory of snowmobiles, ATVs, parts and services and added side-by-side ATV and snowmobile rental services. 

Caribou is one of The County’s most popular regions for snowmobile and ATV riding, Adams said. Eventually he wants to either build or acquire a new shop closer to the trails to better serve locals and visitors.

“It’s a cool opportunity to give back and be involved with the local community,” Adams said. “We’re in the early stages of our growth, but the snowmobile community will be a big part of that.”