Frank Butt was only a few steps into the parking lot of Fong’s Restaurant when an inkling stopped him in his tracks.
It was New Year’s Eve 2019 and he had to get a picture with restaurant owner Art Fong.
Butt had been going to Fong’s since it was at its original location on Water Street in Carbonear.
They had tiny jukeboxes at every table that would feed into a main music unit. He and his friends would pop coins into that and wait for their songs to come on, which they always did.
Now, the mayor of Carbonear had a fear there wasn’t going to be a Fong’s New Year’s Eve party in 2020 and he wanted a photo with the owner for posterity.
Butt got the photo he craved and, as it turns out, he was right.
Earlier this week, Fong’s Restaurant officially announced it is closing in the Conception Bay North community.
“It is a sad day for Carbonear,” said Butt. “No one wants to see it go.
“It is a landmark of our town that is gone. Fong’s was the place to be.”
Fong’s Restaurant was an institution in Carbonear, and in Conception Bay North.
Since 1959, the family-owned restaurant has been weaving itself into the fabric of the community.
Owner Art Fong, 65, had been thinking about closing the restaurant for some time, and then the COVID-19 pandemic started.
In March, he closed the restaurant as the province went into lockdown, and that helped make up his mind as to the future of the space.
The regulations around reopening were just another part of the decision.
“All good things must come to an end,” said Fong, who will enter retirement and figures he will do plenty of hunting and fishing with his spare time.
Currently, the building is being rented to Eastern Health.
Originally, the restaurant was located on Water Street in the community before a fire ripped through that building.
In 1982, Fong’s was rebuilt in its current location on the Conception Bay Highway. It was only the restaurant first, but by 1987 there were 16 hotel rooms and a banquet hall.
Through its six decades of operation it became much more than that.
It was something to everybody. It was a gathering place and a watering hole. Countless people in the region held their wedding receptions in the banquet hall, while birthdays and work lunches filled the restaurant regularly.
“All good things must come to an end.”
The local Kiwanis Club held its meetings there, and many of the province’s premiers had meals at the vaunted restaurant. The 2012 Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games were launched in the hotel.
There was even a short period of time in 2014 when provincial court was moved from the courthouse in Harbour Grace to Fong’s banquet hall while a replacement for the old, decrepit court building was found.
Then, the smell of sweet and sour chicken and fried rice would fill the space as the accused awaited their day in court. The sheriff’s officers took their breaks in an unused hotel room down the hall.
“It will be missed,” said Bill Bowman.
Bowman is from Carbonear and worked for 40 years for the local newspaper, The Compass. As a result, Fong’s Restaurant was a fixture of his professional and private life.
There were countless meals with his family, and even more as a reporter covering events or having lunch with co-workers.
Bowman remembers Fong’s first restaurant having one of the town’s first neon signs. That, combined with the jukeboxes at every table, put it at the front of local dining establishments.
It was one of the first eateries to move its location to the Columbus Drive area of town. Now, the stretch of road is blocked with chain and local restaurants.
“It will be missed, for sure,” said Bowman.
Carbonear’s Maggie Davis has a unique connection to the restaurant. She and her husband, Jimmy, held their reception there in 2015.
That was a Saturday night, and on Sunday, she stopped in to pay the bill. By Thursday of that same week, she was hired as a waitress.
She stayed there until this March when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and cost her the job.
“I was surprised,” Davis said of what she thought when she heard of the closing.
As an employee of the restaurant, she remembers the group of 15 — they had to put two tables together — that showed up every morning for coffee, and the couple who came for supper on Fridays and breakfast on Saturdays.
There were others, too, who made the restaurant a part of their regular lives.
“It was like a second home. It was more than just a business,” said Davis.
Nicholas Mercer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering central Newfoundland for SaltWire Network