BERLIN — Last Thursday, Berlin's Northland Restaurant and Dairy Bar served its last customers before shutting its doors after more than six decades of service.
For the past month, ever since co-owners Joanne and Peter Roy announced they were closing the popular restaurant, the landmark eatery located at 1826 Riverside Drive has been jammed with customers.
Patrons came to enjoy one last favorite meal at the Northland, known for its fried fish, chicken fingers and handmade pies.
But they also came to say goodbye to a place that has been an institution and bid farewell to a staff many consider part of the family.
“Ever since we’ve announced, it’s been crazy busy every single shift," said Joanne Roy.
"We often had to close takeout early because we couldn't keep up with both. We only have one kitchen for both dining room and takeout. It's been really, really busy,” she said.
Looking around the restaurant, Roy said the last day was probably the calmest it's been since the announcement.
“Today has probably been the slowest day. I think people are wary that it would probably be too busy,” she said, adding folks also may have heard they were out of some food items.
“It’s OK. It’s giving us more time to spend with each other and more time to do stuff," Joanne said.
The Roys say closing the restaurant has been a bittersweet experience.
Peter Roy’s father, Lionel Roy, and a 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 handled the restaurant.
Peter Roy said he started work in the milk processing plant and eventually took over the ice cream division, producing Northland Ice Cream and selling to regional markets. The ice cream business was sold in 2001 to Hershey’s Ice Cream, and Roy served for 17 years as area manager for Hershey’s.
Three years ago, he went to work at Northland, where his wife was running the operation.
Joanne Roy went to work at the restaurant in the 1990s as Rasys was getting older and needed help. Roy said she came from a family of self-employed entrepreneurs so she understood what she was taking on.
“Being self-employed is different from a regular job because when you’re self-employed it’s 24/7. It’s always on your mind. You’re always thinking about it. You’re always living it,” she said.
Joanne Roy said she loves to cook and in the beginning, she cooked at the restaurant. Over time, she took over management as both original partners died. However, she has been cooking again these last weeks.
She said she always loved the social aspect of running the restaurant. “I like to interact with the customers and the employees and the vendors,” Joanne said.
Dressed as Mrs. Claus on the final night, Janet Mercier greeted diners and worked to keep the mood festive. Mercier has worked at Northland 43 years and admitted there were tears these past weeks as staff said goodbye to longtime customers.
There were customers who traveled a distance to have one last meal — Joanne Roy said one came from Florida. Others went back generations or were frequent diners.
“We had full support from the community all the time,” commented wait staff member Kate Fitzmorris.
Even though the restaurant atmosphere was frequently hectic, Mercier said employees managed to have fun. Employees tended to stay for years and many young people got their first work experience in the ice cream parlor.
“We all worked so well together,” said Mercier, whose daughter also worked there for a while.
Working the final shift were Fitzmorris, Michelle Smith, Hannah Rivard, Tammy Leveille and Lisa Cartisano.
Fitzmorris has worked at the Northland for 21 years; Smith, 25 years; Leveille, 35 years; Cartisan, two; and Rivard, just one year. The group went out for breakfast together before coming in to work their last shift.
Meanwhile, customers came for the food. Joanne Roy said the three most popular menu items were scallops, haddock and chicken fingers. The latter were took third in the state in a recent competition — no small accomplishment when you are located in the northern corner of the state.
The menu also included turkey and gravy, pot roast, steak, salmon pie and a highly rated lobster roll. Then there were the desserts — a wide variety of cooked pies, chocolate brownie sundaes and fresh berry pies in season.
Beyond the menu, the Northland has served for years as a gathering place for celebrations such as birthday parties, graduations, engagements and for sadder occasions such as funeral receptions.
Political candidates also found their way there during the New Hampshire primaries. A favorite of the staff was the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, who even campaigned in the kitchen.
But while there are lots of good memories, the Roys said it is 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 her husband has worked the day shift at the restaurant while she works the evening shift. Meanwhile, their two sons are grown, and they have grandchildren to enjoy.
“We feel like we are going to be losing that daily connection with our staff, and with the community, and our customers,” said Joanne Roy.
“But then on the other hand, my husband and I are really looking forward to spending more time with our family and ourselves and doing stuff that doesn't revolve around the business all the time.”