My affinity for Maine’s stalwart, unassuming Pat’s Pizza chain is multifaceted. It involves vivid memories of pitching for my Little League team, the Firemen, and of the postgame spoils: slice after slice from Pat’s, washed down with an ocean of cold soda. Thirty years later, I’d replace the soda with cheap red wine, the ideal pairing with their hot-sausage and canned-mushroom pizza. Pat’s always gives you a choice of fresh or canned mushrooms, and most anyone I care to spend time with agrees that the canned ones are better. Pat’s is the kind of pizza that begs to be showered with Parmesan and chili flakes and most definitely warrants a side of ranch, to dunk the buttery, golden crust into.
Right: Bruce Farnsworth, Pat’s Pizza scion, at the retro counter in Orono.His dad (who looks on from the wall and the back of the staff tees) opened the place as a dairy bar and soda fountain in 1931.
Growing up, I had no idea there were Pat’s Pizzas other than the one in my hometown of Yarmouth. And I had no idea how deep the restaurant’s roots were until a recent conversation with Bruce Farnsworth, who owns the original, in Orono, told me how his father, Pat, had founded the original Orono location during the Great Depression. It’s still there, on Mill Street, the epitome of “American pizzeria” in both menu and atmosphere.
In its first incarnation, in 1931, it was Farnsworth’s Cafe, an ice-cream parlor that Pat opened when the building’s owner offered him the place for a meager $150, after a previous tenant vacated in the middle of the night. Soon after opening, Pat did an astonishing $800 in sales on a single Saturday. So he went all in, adding a grill for hot dogs and hamburgers, and soon, he was offering telephone-order delivery to the UMaine campus nearby. “At the time,” 74-year-old Bruce reminded me, “phone numbers were still only three digits long.”
After Prohibition’s repeal, Pat put in a taproom and started pouring beers, and he kept expanding the menu throughout the 1940s. In the early ’50s, when a nearby competitor called Pizza House started picking up steam, Pat and his wife, Fran, started researching their own pizza recipe. The day they debuted it, they aimed to sell 50 pizzas — and ended up moving 150, Bruce says. By then, everyone around Orono simply referred to the place as “Pat’s,” so when the Farnsworths decided to morph into a pizzeria, they rolled with the nickname. The first satellite location came into being when a man from Prince Edward Island visited his girlfriend at UMaine and fell in love with the pizza. He worked with the Farnsworths to open a Pat’s in his hometown and eventually designed the logo that any Mainer will recognize.
Pat worked seven days a week until his 90th birthday — he was known around Orono for his good nature, suspenders, and cigar — and died in 2003, at age 93. Today, with Bruce overseeing 16 franchise locations across the state, Pat’s is as much a part of Maine culture as anyplace slinging lobsters or Italians. The pizza essentials are the same from one location to another — the dough for that crust, Fran’s sauce recipe — but each town’s Pat’s has its own vibe and menu embellishments (Yarmouth has a veggie quiche pie; Orono has a pastrami). After talking with Bruce, the core menu reads to me like a history book. The classics endure.