LYNN — Very often, we measure our memories in little things — the grocery store at the corner where we used to buy penny candy, or the playground down the street.
Or the little breakfast nook that was tucked into a cluster of old-style structures on Boston Street.
If you’ve ever traveled along that street, between Sacred Heart Church and the lights at Laurel and Myrtle streets, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the red, white and blue building with the sign “Little River Inn” on it (painted in such patriotic fashion on July 4, 1995). As much as any house in which they’ve ever lived, the restaurant was home to former Ward 7 Councilor Rick Ford, his wife, Tina, and their family. Go in there on a Saturday or a Sunday morning, and — much like the Hibernian Hall down the street — it was always Old Home Week for the West Lynn cognoscenti. Chances were you’d run into someone you knew from childhood. In my case, that would most often be Butch Fortucci from the water department, whose brother, Dick, just retired after a career at City Hall this week.
For 33 years, the Little River Inn served as an unofficial headquarters for the old-school West Lynn, Sacred Heart Church crowd.
Here’s how local this place was. The Fords even named a breakfast sandwich after West Lynn’s own John McNulty, who played football for Plymouth State and whose cousins included the late Martin McNulty (a former immigration attorney from Lynn).
The Fords used to open the place on Thanksgiving so people could eat breakfast before going to the football games. But this coming Saturday, Rick and Tina Ford will serve their last omelet. They are closing the doors to the establishment for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they simply feel it’s time.
Tina Ford doesn’t really feel good about this in the sense that she wishes it could have gone on longer (at least until they hit 40). But like a lot of people who own, or have owned, eating establishments, there comes a time when it all gets to be too much. That’s what forced Bob Gaudet to pull the plug on the Porthole Restaurant last year. He was tired, he’d done it long enough, and it was time to relax. It’s also the reason Rob and Rich Santoro decided to close their sub shop in Saugus. It was time to live their lives without being chained to the place.
Plus, the couple wants to spend more time with their family, especially their grandchildren.
“We didn’t plan on going out this soon,” Tina Ford said. “It’s kind of sad. But we have a lot of issues we’re dealing with on both sides of our family that need my attention, and it’s getting stressful.”
There have been rumors circulating that the Old Tyme Restaurant, next door to Little River, wanted to expand into Little River building, which the Fords own. But Ford said nothing definitive has come out of any talks about the possibility. All she knows she wants to sell the building. The name, however, would stay with the family.
“I’m sentimental,” she said. “I don’t want to give it up. The name was suggested by Rick’s father, and it’s named after the old Little River Playground (now Barry Park). There are a lot of memories with it.”
She’s aware of the role the business has played in the fabric of the West Lynn neighborhood.
“Some days you don’t think about it, but some days you do. And I appreciate that, I really do.
“You have your regulars who come in, and you could banter with them and they could banter with you,” she said. “You could bust each other’s chops. I always loved it when I saw people sitting at a dining room table, jabbering away, and that you could shoot the breeze. It’s like losing family, like they’re moving away. I’m going to miss them.”
But a lot has changed, she said, that has also led to the decision to close. The Fords have three children, Erin, Joe and Buddy, “and when they were all in high school, all their friends would come by and eat here. Now, they’ve all got other things to do and it’s not the way it used to be.”
While she and her husband may not miss the actual stress of running a business (“I don’t want to be a chief anymore,” she says), Ford will miss the customers.
“I never wanted to give that part of it up,” she said. “But it’s just so hard now. One of my customers said, ‘You’ve had a good run.’ And it was fun while it lasted.”