With tears and bittersweet smiles Bridges Restaurant, a longtime fixture of the Aberdeen community, has fallen casualty to the changing economy in the area.
After 48 years of operation at the 112 North G St. location, the restaurant was open for one last night on Saturday.
“It’s sort of like a death,” said founder and owner Sonny Bridges.
Bridges said that for the past five years, business has been dropping off at the restaurant. When Bridges opened the doors of his restaurant in the 1960s, business was booming. But many years later, the decline of the timber-cutting industry combined with the near collapse of businesses associated with that industry led people to eat out less. And as upscale dining places on the Harbor shuttered one after another, Bridges said his restaurant came to be seen as a special occasion establishment where people went to celebrate birthdays, holidays, weddings and the like. Weekend traffic was still good at times, but lack of normal business killed the restaurant. Bridges was no longer sized for the area.
“Slowly it kept getting a little worse,” Bridges said. “It’s way too big for Aberdeen today.”
At 65, his emotional and business ties to the area are strong. He learned a great deal about being a restaurateur at Bridges Restaurant, he said. In Aberdeen, he currently owns Billy’s, a bar and grill and The Breakwater, a seafood restaurant. Both are solid and are at no risk of closing, he said. He also has interests is several other restaurants in the state.
Bridges said he struggled with the decision over whether to close the restaurant for several years, hoping sparks in the area’s economy would grow. But after watching the balance sheet shrink year after year, closing the business became a “cold calculation.” How to help his soon-to-be former employees, some of whom have been working at Bridges for 15 years, was the “emotional part” of the equation. In the end, Bridges said he wanted to go out on a high note — the finances were in the black, and he was satisfied with the quality of the food. He also didn’t want to sign up any group reservations for the upcoming holiday season. He didn’t want to disappoint anyone if things got worse and he had to close abruptly.
“We thought this was the right time to do it,” Bridges said.
About 25 people work at the restaurant, five of them full-time. Workers cashed out their vacation time and those who met certain guidelines were given severance pay.
Sissy Milton, a server who has been working a Bridges for 13 years, said she was upset about the closing.
“It’s sad because it’s my second home. My second family is here,” she said.
As word of the closing got out around Aberdeen, some restaurants tried to hire members of Bridges’ staff. Milton was one who got another job.
“I feel very lucky,” Milton said. She added she knows that others are struggling to find work. “I feel very bad for them.”
On Saturday, the restaurant was packed. Many of the patrons were long-time customers of the establishment. Former servers walked up and hugged customers they hadn’t seen in years. Carleen Randich, who was there on Saturday with her husband and a group of friends, said she has been going to Bridges for decades. She said the service and the atmosphere of the restaurant was always great. But she came, mostly for her friends and the food.
“The whole time, I have never had a bad meal here,” she said.
Will Morris, a Daily World reporter, can be reached at 537-3930 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org