BY NATE SMELLE
Pelham lost a beloved local landmark last Friday afternoon, as Keith’s Restaurant closed its doors for the last time. Situated on the corner of Pelham Street and Hwy 20 in downtown Fonthill, Keith’s has been serving up home-cooked meals and freshly baked pies for 65 years. On Friday, owner Vilma Moretti held a reception in the dining area to show her appreciation to her customers and staff, whom she fondly called her “Keith’s family.”
While the atmosphere at Keith’s this day was as friendly as ever, there was an undeniable tinge of sadness. Moretti decided to close the restaurant after her son, Tom Crick, passed away from pancreatic cancer earlier this year at the age of 53. Tom’s father, Keith Crick, opened the restaurant in 1952 in the building next door, before moving it to its current location seven years later. Tom was planning to take over the business before succumbing to his illness in February.
“It has been very difficult being here since losing my son,” said Moretti.
“Today is about our family here at Keith’s. We wanted everyone to have a good time together before we closed.”
Long-time Keith’s staff member Lori Terpstra started working at the restaurant at just 15. She was sad to see this chapter in local history come to an end. A day earlier, she said, a customer gave her a card that described Keith’s perfectly as “a place where everybody knows your name.”
“Keith and my dad were cousins, so I grew up here,” said Terpstra.
“So many people have been coming in to tell me how much they are going to miss us and this place. Where else can you get such good home-cooked meals. I’ve had customers tell me that instead of staying home and making dinner they would come in to have dinner with their Keith’s family.”
“This place feels like a second home and a second family for me,” added her daughter, Hannah Terpstra.
“Our customers and our boss have been amazing,” chimed in another long-time Keith’s staffer, Helen Stiff.
The sentiment around the room was the same. Several of the patrons took time to share how special Keith’s had been to them over the years. One table, calling themselves the Thursday Night Gang, took turns expressing their sadness and sharing a few happy memories.
“We have no idea where we are going to eat now,” said patron Gloria Carmen.
“We’re regulars here. We’ve had wedding receptions here, funeral receptions, birthdays, baptismal gatherings all kinds of special occasions, and we’ve have never had bad food. People have made a lot of memories here.”
“We are really going to miss it,” said Rae Ball, Moretti’s former teacher.
“When our children were young — about six or seven-years-old—we use to come here every Thursday as a family to have supper and dessert for five dollars,” added his wife, Gladys Ball.
“It’s rare to see a restaurant last so long. Now so many of them are just fast food. The food doesn’t taste as good and it isn’t healthy. Here, the food was always tasted just like you cooked it at home.”
“We are going to miss this place terribly,” said another patron June Timms.
“It’s so friendly here, it feels like family and you always get excellent service and excellent food. It’s truly a landmark for our community.”
A lifetime resident of Pelham, Paul Ryan has been coming to Keith’s since it first opened its doors. By losing Keith’s Restaurant, he said Pelham is also losing its social hub.
“People would come to Keith’s for the camaraderie,” said Ryan.
“You got to know everybody here and a lot of people depended on that. They didn’t just ask you how you were doing because it was something to say. They actually cared about you. Keith’s was its own style of church.”
When a customer embraced Vilma Moretti and said goodbye, she smiled and stood back, resting a hand on his shoulder, and replied, “Don’t say ‘goodbye.’ Say, ‘farewell.’”