Wednesday , July 09, 2014 - 1:46 PM
OGDEN — Ferron Wimmer feels like he’s just been handed an eviction notice.
The 69-year-old Riverdale man had been coming to the Dee’s Family Restaurant on Washington Boulevard every day — twice a day — for the last 35 years.
“Unless I’m out of town,” he said. “Or, in the hospital.”
That’s seven days a week, at 6 a.m. and again at noon. He usually just ordered coffee, unless his wife was with him — then they’d order food.
“This is my home,” Wimmer says. “Ken has evicted me.”
Ken Webb is the owner of Dee’s located at 3360 Washington Blvd. in Ogden, . After 36 years of operation, he’s decided to retire, and has closed the restaurant doors for good. The night shift locked up on Sunday night, and when employees arrived on Monday morning, they were delivered the bad news.
When employee Lillian Gordon arrived to open the restaurant early Monday, all three of her bosses were there to greet her.
“I knew something bad was about to happen,” she said.
But she, like the others, assumed it was a death in someone’s family. The employees were, after all, a particularly tight-knit group.
“And not just the employees,” Abel said. “But our customers, too. They support us in our weddings, our funerals.”
As it turns out, it was a death, employees say. The death of the Ogden Dee’s family.
On Tuesday morning, restaurant staff members were still clearing out the last remaining items that weren’t nailed down. In between, they cried, hugged and reminisced. And then cried some more.
“We’ve all been here more years than we can count,” said manager Jolene Belt, who worked for the restaurant almost the entire time it was open. “We’re all family.”
Wendy Cantone, the kitchen manager, spent 25 years working at the Ogden Dee’s.
“This is my first job,” Cantone said, as the tears began flowing again. “I’ve known Jolene since I was just a little girl.”
Nan Abel, Belt’s sister, is the waitress supervisor at the restaurant. She’s been there at the restaurant for the whole ride.
“First and last day,” she says with a sad smile. “I was here when they cut the ribbon to open it, and now I’m here at the end.”
“You should let her lock the door for the last time,” Cantone tells Belt.
In a food-services industry that sees more turnover than, well, your average pancake turner, the Dee’s staff has been incredibly stable. Indeed, turnover was almost unheard of at the restaurant.
“We’ve heard people say, ‘You never get hired at Dee’s unless somebody dies,’ ” Abel said.
When Cantone got sick with cancer, her fellow employees rallied to her aid, even going so far as to provide financial help.
“You can’t explain this,” she says, interlocking her fingers tightly to describe the bond between them. “You can’t.”
Belt says that when she lost her husband five years ago, “I never would have made it without this crew.”
Di Noorlander, who has been a waitress at the Dee’s in Ogden for 33 years, struggled to find the words to express her feelings.
“Numb. Shock,” Noorlander said. “In a way, it’s like a death. It’s our own little family.”
And for Nely Islas, a cook who came to Ogden — alone — from her home in Mexico, her Dee’s co-workers have very much been family the last six years.
“No mom here. No sister,” she said in halting English, tears welling in her eyes. “This is my new family.”
Customers felt like family as well. One Dee’s regular, after his wife died, showed up first thing every morning to sort of help open the restaurant. When he didn’t show up one day, Belt and the others called police to do a welfare check on him at his house. He eventually turned up; he’d been waiting at the restaurant before it opened, but wasn’t feeling well and had gone to the hospital to get checked out.
“We teased that we needed to get him a key,” Noorlander said.
The last two days a lot of these customers have been out in the parking lot, crying right along with the employees when they showed up to eat and learned of the news.
Employees regret they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to many of their customers.
“The boss is retiring, and we’re excited for him,” Abel said. “We just wished we could have said ‘Thanks’ to the customers.”
Webb, who is closing the restaurant because “I’m 69, and it’s time for me to retire,” says the lack of notice was regrettable, but it had to be done that way. In his experience, when he gives advance notice to employees, they don’t last until the restaurant closes.
“They go find another job and don’t make it to the closing date, and we’re still trying to run a restaurant,” he said. “I’ve learned over the years that sudden is devastating, but lingering is devastating, too.”
Abel doesn’t believe that would have happened with her Ogden crew. They’re family, and they would have stayed until the end, she says.
Webb agrees his employees were an “incredible crew,” and he highly recommends all of them to other restaurants in the area.
“What we’ll do is give them great recommendations, and a severance package,” he said.
Part of the reason for closing also has to do with demographics, according to Webb. Restaurant traffic is moving to Riverdale and downtown Ogden; there’s less traffic in the area where Dee’s is located.
Barbie Staley, of Roy, was another daily customer at Dee’s.
“Out of the blue. That’s sad,” she said Tuesday as she showed up to eat and learned of the closing. “It puts all these girls out of work.”
Staley also wonders what she’ll do for breakfast now.
“I guess I’ll have to cook it at home,” she said.
It’s not like it’ll be easy to replace Dee’s with another eatery, according to Staley.
“I passed a lot of restaurants every day on my way to come here specifically,” she said.
Wimmer, who likes a homey atmosphere with friendly service, says the food was good, but it was the people who kept him coming back.
“They listen to you when you have problems, and in return you listen to them when they have problems,” he said.
Like Staley, Wimmer isn’t sure what he’ll do, post-Dee’s.
“Find another place, I guess.”
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.
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