Perkins calls it a day

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Seven years after it opened its doors, a popular Lyndhurst eatery sadly bade farewell to its many loyal customers this past Sunday.

Perkins Family Restaurant & Bakery, in the Valley Brook Ave. mall across from Township Hall, closed after being unable to come to terms on a new lease with the landlord, Lyndhurst Residential Community 2 LLC of Edison, said owner Patti Moretta.

Moretta said she has no plans to reopen at another location.

“I’m not moving anywhere else – I’m done,” she said.

Patrons who want a Perkins dining experience will have to venture out to Woodbridge, the closest to Lyndhurst.

Her departure will mark the second retailer in the mall to fold. A Mandee shop closed about a year and a half ago and the space remains empty today.

The loss of Perkins will leave 24 employees out of jobs including the restaurant’s acting GM James Mojonick of Kearny who has worked there the past two and a half years.

“I’ll miss the staff and Patti,” Mojonick said. “It’s like a family here. Very few times do you get to work at a place, especially in a cutthroat world of business, and find that the people you’re working with are more like a family, where we can be somewhat laid back but still get the job done.”

Longtime customers like Eileen and Bill Gallagher of North Arlington readily agreed. “It’s been one of our favorite spots for the past six years,” said Eileen. “We like the people, it’s clean, comfortable and the food is good.”

Husband Bill added: “The people who work here do a wonderful job, they’re respectful and we get our food on time. It’s a shame they’re closing. We come here at least once a week, mostly for the turkey dinner.”

It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride for Moretta.

When the Totowa resident acquired the Perkins franchise and decided to set up shop in Lyndhurst, “this place was just a cement slab when I came here.” It cost her $1.5 million to build the restaurant, she said.

Once she got going, though, she never stopped. “Each year, we only closed on Christmas,” she said. “And we were the only place open the day after the hurricane, Sandy, hit, in 2012. I brought in a bunch of power surges so our staff and customers could charge their phones.”

Moretta, who grew up in Glen Ridge, has always been food-conscious. After graduating from Glen Ridge High School, she went to Syracuse University where she got her degree in therapeutic nutrition.

She applied her academic knowledge during an eightyear stint as registered dietician at Clara Maass Medical Center and 11 years as public health nutrition counselor and Meals on Wheels coordinator in Passaic.

“I’ve actually been working since I was 15,” she said.

Her dad was a part-owner of a Holiday Inn complex in Totowa and she tinkered with the idea of bringing a Perkins there but, instead, picked Lyndhurst for its easy access to Rt. 3 and other highway transit links.

Eventually, she succeeded in building a customer base that extended to places like Secaucus, Fort Lee, West Milford and even New York.

Mother’s and Father’s Day turned out to be big draws. “Some of my former employees would come in and work for free,” Moretta recalled, “just because they wanted to.” And, every Christmas Day, she’d throw a holiday party for her employees.

Over the years, the Lyndhurst Perkins has sought to give back to the community, Moretta said.

“We’ve donated muffins, pies and cookies to veterans, we allowed them to put their coin box on the front counter. I’ve gotten awards from the local VFW for our loyalty to veterans.

“We sponsored Lyndhurst High School football team towels and, for the past three or four years, we’ve worked with the high school’s developmentally disabled program here at the restaurant.

“Anybody who knocked on my door got a donation, whether it was a Tricky Tray or whatever,” she said.

Still, it hasn’t always been a piece of cake. “In some ways, it’s been an uphill battle since we opened in October 2007,” she said.“There was Sandy, of course, and there were 29 days where my customers had nowhere to park because the mall spaces were taken up by events being held by the township or by police vehicles. Then, on top of that, we had the construction [of barrier walls] on Rt. 3 where people couldn’t use the Lyndhurst exit.”

And there were the annual rent increases assessed by the property owner.

But despite her travails, Moretta says the struggle was worth it and, as proof of the pudding, she showed The Observer a book of tributes logged in by thankful customers – a souvenir of her days in Lyndhurst she’ll always treasure.

Learn more about the writer ...