Restaurants are like people. Slipping into a booth at your neighbourhood joint is like getting a hug from an old friend. Biting into a cheeseburger at “that spot” after months away is like coming home again. 

They have personalities, with multi-faceted layers of design, moods, and philosophies. Restaurants can be smug and modern like that type-A overachiever at work who’s always dressed to the nines, or a little more broken-in—comforting and reliable like your pop in his brown corduroys and melt-your-heart smile. 

Restaurants have devoted family members who work hard for them. Sometimes we only see them on special occasions, eager to celebrate and enjoy a meal with them; sometimes we see them every week, sitting at our favourite table eating the same dishes visit after visit. 

But like people, restaurants live—perhaps with a tumultuous birth or a renowned longevity—and they die, with a newsworthy upending fire or with a quiet whisper only heard by its most devoted regulars. 

Over the past few years, I’ve watched some of my favourite restaurants gasp their last breaths as a global pandemic decimated the restaurant industry in St. John’s and across the world. I grieved. When Seto closed a few months ago, it felt like I had lost a good friend, and writing my condolences to the chef felt like someone had passed on. Even talking about the closure with my friends was like talking about the death of a loved one. 

So here are my last words of devotion and appreciation for the restaurants St. John’s lost during Covid-19.  

The Big R (1952-2020)

The Big R on Harvey Road passed away with much media attention on September 27, 2020. This senior citizen and fixture of the community left the restaurant scene early in the pandemic, one of the city’s first losses. The official cause of death is not known—patrons and owners blame a much-deserved retirement, COVID or just a natural death—but the impact felt for this guy was tremendous. They were one of the only spots left in the city where you could actually get Jiggs Dinner in a restaurant, along with fried cod tongues and a very good club sandwich (with FDG, of course). Professional accomplishments include (but are not limited to) when internationally acclaimed travelling chef Anthony Bourdain called their fried bologna “awesome.” Left to mourn: owner Karen Lambert and her family who deep-fried for more than 60 years, and Big’s little sister on Blackmarsh Road who continues the family tradition. 

International Flavours (1996-2020)

Talat Mian closed the doors of this Quidi Vidi Road treasure on March 17, 2020, to ride out the global pandemic—like hundreds of kindred spirits across the world—but it wasn’t until July 10 that the death certificate was signed. The sudden passing of this institution spread like wildfire on social media when their tenancy was taken over without notice and Mian was left on the street, locked out of her beloved restaurant after more than two decades. Left to mourn: Justin Fong, owner of Quidi Vidi Brewery—who ate there daily and tried so very hard to keep the blood pumping at this Pakistani restaurant—and the regulars who pine for Mian’s curries every day. They will be missed. 

Seto Kitchen + Bar (2016-2022)

After a two-year struggle with COVID restrictions, the lights went out for Seto. The neon pink “Cocktails & Dreams” sign that shone like a beacon to patrons on Duckworth Street looking for great libations and fried rice has gone dark. They were a  revolutionary that pioneered fusion cuisine of Asian-Newfoundland flavours in dishes like chanterelle bao and Binchotan grilled NL rabbit. Beloved by their devoted regulars—especially those in the restaurant industry who visited Seto often, dining on the late-night menu filled with fried chicken, kimchi mac & cheese, and blooming onions covered in caviar. Professional accomplishments include a nomination for EnRoute Magazine’s Best New Restaurant when they were still in their infancy and multiple wins in the city’s burger battles. Left to mourn: Chef Ken Pittman and the patrons of Seto who miss their fried rice on the daily. Blessed be the bao. 

A burger and fries at Seto Kitchen + Bar. Photo by Gabby Peyton.

Fort Amherst Pub (2017-2022)

After several courageous battles with bouts of flooding, the Fort Amherst Pub was laid to rest at Churchill Square on January 31, 2022, with a heartfelt Facebook post from owner Evan Bursey. The birth of this local was legendary: it took three attempts to come into the world, moving locations and overcoming career-ending negative reviews from newspaper critics. But Fort Amherst Pub kept itself afloat by an ocean of local craft beers along with “Mary’s Big Sister” chicken burgers, all kinds of tacos and boatloads of French fries. Left to mourn: Owner Evan Bursey, his family and Churchill Square residents who have one less option for local dining. 

Other Fallen Friends

Dozens of our French-frying friends were lost to Covid and/or the general economic malaise left in its wake. We salute you. 

  • Baystar Cafe and Catering (2019-2020)
  • Bamboo Garden (2016-2020)
  • The Green Door (2018-2020)
  • Green Kitchen (2018-2021)
  • Jade Garden (2017-2020)
  • Mochanopoly (2015-2021)
  • Merlo’s Inferno (2015-2020)
  • Mickey’s Sandwiches (2020-2022) 
  • Mill Street Brewpub – Bier Markt (2016-2020)
  • Muhammed Ali’s (2014-2021)
  • Omelette Wizard (2017-2020)

NOTE: A word on the MIK (the Missing in Kitchen) of St. John’s: We couldn’t find the official death certificates for some of the city’s most beloved eateries who’ve been absent for months now. 

Jin Dragon: The iconic Sunday dim sum purveyor toasted NYE with Chinese Canadian takeout-only service on December 31, 2021 but has yet to reopen in their new location in Paradise. 

The Classic Cafe: The beloved Duckworth fixture whose last Facebook post from the CC’s owner Fred Reardon reported he was in Ontario for heart surgery on March 13, 2021. The open sign remains dark, but regulars remain hopeful to see their friend again.  

Raymonds: This superstar served perhaps their last meal on New Year’s Eve of 2020, a decade after The Jeremys birthed one of the most impactful restaurants in Newfoundland and Labrador’s culinary history. We wait with bated breath—and a deprived palate—to see if Raymonds returns.

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Gabby Peyton is a food writer and culinary historian based in St. John’s, NL, where she is the city’s restaurant critic for The Telegram. Her work has appeared on CBC, Chatelaine, and Atlantic Business Magazine. Her first book, Where We Ate: A Field Guide to Canada’s Restaurants, Past and Present is out next spring.