Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sadness as the sun sets on a favorite restaurant

You know that little guy who pops up in cartoons carrying a sign that says, “The End Is Near?”

Well, he’s not as dumb as he looks. The end of something is always near, and today is the end of something very important. At least, to me it is.

Today is the end, as we know it, of Helen’s Sunrise Cafe across from the West End YMCA on Route 20 in Willoughby. In my small world, that is a huge loss.

The notification came about a week ago, when Helen put a notification on the bottom of her two chalkboards that announce the daily specials.

It was very nicely worded. Compassionate and all that. But it didn’t dispel the hurt. She said she and Jim, her husband, have decided to retire, and the final day would be today.

It took a while to sink in.

The small restaurant, which opened in the pre-dawn hours seven days a week and closed right after lunch, is something the area has needed for the last 10 years. It is clean, pleasant and tidy, the food is tasty, well-prepared and reasonably priced, and Helen has always been around (usually in the kitchen) to make sure her customers were happy and satisfied.

But after today, I will have three large voids to fill in my life. Those empty spaces will occur on Saturday noon, Sunday morning and Tuesday noon.

Let’s begin with Saturday. The lady of the house and I have had lunch at 12:15 every Saturday for years. The servers can read our minds. I always have an iced tea and she has a Diet Coke and we both almost always have turkey club sandwiches on wheat toast. Oh, and I have a bag of chips.

The lunch is great. But as much as the food, we will miss seeing Becky and her two little girls, Megan and Gracie, who are growing up to become beautiful young ladies. Sometimes Mike, their father, is there, so we talk about golf while the ladies talk about other things.

Mike knows everyone in northeast Ohio who has ever swung a golf club. There are other “regulars,” and I have no idea when or where we will see them again.

The following day, on Sunday, my brother and I have breakfast at 10:20 at Helen’s. Our selections are varied, but lately I have become fond of the one+two+two.  For the uninitiated, that consists of one order of french toast, two eggs and two slices of bacon. And we both order toast on the side — either wheat or rye.

The servers know we want our bacon burned to a crisp and that I want sugar-free syrup.

Helen’s is a serious upgrade over Julian’s in Downtown Willoughby, where we had Sunday breakfast before there was a Helen’s. I think Julian and his wife, Veronica, moved to Florida. Anyway, Julian’s isn’t there anymore. Doug Ciancibello next door at Burgers and Beer took it over and expanded his very nice eatery because he needed the space.

There are so many regulars at Helen’s on Sunday morning that I wonder if we will ever see them either, especially Dave and Mary Ellen. Last Sunday, Dave wondered the same thing. Oh, I know we will probably see Chuck and Mary Cox someplace, and Bill and Louise Butterfield.

But most of the regulars we only see at Helen’s. That includes Terry Daniels, the former football star at South High who fought for the world heavyweight boxing championship in New Orleans about four decades ago.

Although he lives in Willoughby, the only place I ever see him is Helen’s.

Which bring us to Tuesday, and a group once known as the Vicious Circle. At one time, going back to Fritz Reuter’s Delicatessan in Downtown Willoughby, there were 12 or 14 of us. We have met for lunch at more places that I could ever try to recall. Well over a dozen. Maybe two dozen.

Now there are just four of us, we move around bit-by-bit, and we call Helen’s home on Tuesdays. Besides me, there is Bob Riggin, Clark Hill and John Nelson. And occasionally Bob Meil. And on a recent Tuesday, Bill Behnke.

Our group, which had no official leadership (except for perhaps the late Marion Beloat) was so well regarded that on two occasions the late Fred V. Skok, judge of Probate Court in Lake County, came over to have his official oath of office administered by me in my capacity as a notary public, as the others applauded and Bob Riggin took pictures.

Fred also chaired the “Ladies Night Out” dinners held about once a year by the Circle.

Another group, the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) has been lunching Thursdays at Helen’s. Where will they go? And where will we go on Tuesdays? We have two days to decide.

I hate these decisions. I can’t stand the pressure. Helen, what have you done?


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