BERLIN – Last Thursday, the Northland Restaurant and Dairy Bar in Berlin served its last customers before closing its doors after more than six decades of service.
In the past month, since co-owners Joanne and Peter Roy announced they were closing the popular restaurant, the iconic restaurant at 1826 Riverside Drive has been packed with customers.
Patrons came to enjoy a favorite last meal in Northland, known for its fried fish, chicken fingers and hand-made pies.
But they have also come to say goodbye to a place that has been an institution and to bid farewell to staff many consider family.
“Since we announced it we’ve been very busy every shift,” said Joanne Roy.
“We often had to close the take out early because we couldn’t keep up with both. We only have one kitchen for the dining room and the take out. It has been really busy,” a- she declared.
Looking around the restaurant, Roy said the last day was probably the quietest since the announcement.
“Today was probably the slowest day. I think people are worried that it’s probably too busy,” she said, adding that people might also have heard that they didn’t had more food items.
“It’s okay. It gives us more time to spend with each other and more time to do things,” said Joanne.
Les Roy says closing the restaurant was a bittersweet experience.
Peter Roy’s father, Lionel Roy, and a business partner, George Rasys, started the business in 1957 as a small burger and ice cream stand. Lionel Roy ran the milk and ice cream business, while Rasys ran the restaurant.
Peter Roy said he started working in the milk processing plant and eventually took over the ice cream division, producing Northland ice cream and selling in regional markets. The ice cream business was sold in 2001 to Hershey’s Ice Cream, and Roy served for 17 years as a regional manager for Hershey’s.
Three years ago he went to work in Northland, where his wife was running the operation.
Joanne Roy went to work at the restaurant in the 1990s as Rasys got older and needed help. Roy said she came from a family of independent entrepreneurs, so she understood what she was doing.
“Being self-employed is different from a regular job because when you are self-employed, it’s 24/7. It’s always on your mind. You still think about it. You are still living it, ”she said.
Joanne Roy says she loves to cook and initially cooked in restaurants. Over time, she took over the management as both original partners passed away. However, she has started cooking again in recent weeks.
She said she always liked the social aspect of running the restaurant. “I love interacting with customers, employees and suppliers,” said Joanne.
Dressed as Mme Claus on the last evening, Janet Mercier greeted the guests and made an effort to maintain the festive atmosphere. Mercier worked at Northland for 43 years and admitted there had been tears in recent weeks as staff said goodbye to longtime customers.
There were customers who walked a distance to have one last meal – Joanne Roy said one was from Florida. Others dated back several generations or were frequent guests.
“We had the full support of the community all the time,” commented Kate Fitzmorris, a member of the wait staff.
Although the atmosphere in the restaurant was often hectic, Mercier said the employees managed to have fun. Employees tended to stay for years, and many young people had their first experience working in the ice cream parlor.
“We’ve all worked so well together,” said Mercier, whose daughter also worked there for a while.
Fitzmorris, Michelle Smith, Hannah Rivard, Tammy Leveille and Lisa Cartisano were working the last shift.
Fitzmorris has worked in Northland for 21 years; Smith, 25; Léveillé, 35 years old; Cartisan, two; and Rivard, only one year. The group went out to have breakfast together before entering to work their last shift.
Meanwhile, customers have come for the food. Joanne Roy said the three most popular dishes on the menu were scallops, haddock and chicken fingers. These took third place in the state in a recent competition – no small feat when you’re located in the northern corner of the state.
The menu also included turkey and gravy, roast, steak, salmon pie and a popular lobster roll. Then there were the desserts – a wide variety of baked pies, chocolate brownie sundaes, and berry pies that were fresh in season.
Beyond the menu, the Northland has served for years as a gathering place for celebrations such as birthdays, graduations, engagements, and more mournful occasions such as funeral receptions.
Political candidates also gathered there during the New Hampshire primaries. One of the staff favorites was the late US Senator John McCain, who even campaigned in the kitchen.
But while there are plenty of fond memories, the Roys said it was time for them to step down. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s time for us to get out, ”said Peter Roy.
His wife agreed, noting that her husband worked in the restaurant during the day while she worked in the evening. During this time, their two sons have grown up and they have grandchildren that they can enjoy.
“We feel like we are going to lose this daily connection with our staff, with the community and with our clients,” said Joanne Roy.
“But on the other hand, my husband and I really can’t wait to spend more time with our family and ourselves and doing things that don’t revolve around business all the time.”