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The end of an era: Brian’s closes

by Rod Lee

There is no calculating in dollars or by any other means of measurement what the loss of Brian’s Restaurant, which closed its doors on Sunday night, October 19th, means to the town of Northbridge and the village of Linwood.
Brian Snay’s eating and drinking establishment was not just the only pub-style family dining venue of its kind for miles around, it was in a real sense the glue that held a tight-knit neighborhood together.

Businesses in close proximity to Brian’s all benefitted from the traffic the restaurant generated. These include Foxy Travel, Menard’s (an auto-repair shop), Pirate’s Cove (a seasonal roadside restaurant), Peterson’s and Nydam’s (gasoline stations), Cherub’s Haven (a daycare center), Sundeen Furniture, Lisa Jane’s (a hair salon), the Cellar Sooper (a convenience store), the Linwood Laundromat, the Linwood Post Office and the Salvation Army thrift store. Brian’s in turn gained patronage from them. They literally fed off each other.

“It was a sad day because you get to know the people. They’re like family,” Tom Berkowitz of Northbridge said. Mr. Berkowitz owns Berkowitz Trucking. He and his wife Jeanne were Thursday-night regulars at Brian’s for fifteen years “and we had company Christmas parties there,” he said. “My grandson put a note on the placemat the other night for our waitress (Mary Ann Palumbo). It said ʽsee you later.’”

Asked where he will go now for what he described as “home cooking, comfort food,” Mr. Berkowitz said “nowhere.” Then, “well, I guess the Cape. There’s a place, Jake Rooney’s, in Harwich, that offers the same kind of food.”

With a dining room, a large function room, a long bar (in which old photos of Northbridge were inset) and companion lounge, a free salad bar featuring homemade soups and bread, a diverse menu (the prime rib was some of the best to be found), affordable fare, coin shows, nightly specials, an ideal location on Providence Rd. (Rt. 122) and ample parking, Brian’s attracted people from near and far. Many showed up during the restaurant’s last week of operation to wish Mr. Snay well (he will continue running the food service at the Whitinsville Golf Club while considering other options).

As the clock ticked down the final hours on that last Sunday evening, cheers were mixed with congratulations on eighteen years in business.

Interviewed a few mornings later while cleaning up the restaurant after the raucous last bash, Mr. Snay could hardly contain his disappointment while acknowledging that, financially, it wasn’t feasible to continue. He leaves behind nearly forty years in the restaurant business, the first twenty of which were as a cook at the Cocke ‘n Kettle in Uxbridge (also now closed).

“I probably hung on longer than I should have,” he said. “These days a lot of people head to the chains…movies, shopping, dinner.” Plus, he said, “my menu had a lot of high-ticket items which you don’t see in chains but those pull down the profit.”

Mr. Snay’s most vivid memories will always be of his customers and his employees. A sandwich-board sign in the doorway of the restaurant after it closed carried the message “Thanks to all for the many good times.”
“I had a lot of good waitresses,” he said. “I hope it turns over fast and they can get back to work (the restaurant was for sale as of late October).

“I did great for years because we had the volume. I’m sad it ended but we had a good run. I
hope for the landlord’s sake she gets someone in and they can be here for fifteen to twenty
years like I was.”

Generous to all, Mr. Snay gave a framed artwork depicting a Brian’s Restaurant like his Brian’s
to Linwood Postmaster Marcus Seedhom for display in the lobby of the post office.

Mr. Seedhom is new to Linwood and had frequented Brian’s several times. He was there the
Sunday afternoon the place closed.

“This was a historic moment and I wanted to be there,” he said. “It reminded me of Slattery’s in
Fitchburg where a lot of the schoolteachers ate.”

As chants of “Brian” rose and a crowd gathered around him just before closing time, Mr. Snay
soaked up the adulation.

“I thought I was going to have to make a speech,” he said. “I don’t like giving speeches.”

Rod Lee is a long-time local writer and observer of the Blackstone Valley scene and the current
president of the Webster Square Business Association in Worcester. His most recent book is
Nance’s Nook, a comic tale based on life at a small convenience store in Linwood. Email him at
[email protected]