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Last Day at Lynn's Restaurant in Branford
On Feb. 28, sisters Helen Borrelli (left) and Lynn DeMusis-Grady talk to customers on the final day of their family's Branford business of 41 years, Lynn's Restaurant and Delicatessen. Kelley Fyer/The Sound)
There's always a lunch crowd at Lynn's Restaurant and Delicatessen, but they don't usually come with tears in their eyes and bearing gifts. On February 28, that's the crowd that turned out to say goodbye to sisters Lynn DeMusis-Grady and Helen Borrelli, on the closing day for the Branford family business of 41 years.
"We've had some people come in that we haven't seen in 10 years," said Borrelli, who usually mans the kitchen, but spent most of her last day at Lynn's stepping out to give hugs to well-wishers; and spend a few minutes talking with customers who she and her sister describe as being "...like family."
The goodbyes actually began about two weeks ago, following news shared by the family that the business, started by their mom, Ethel DeMusis, would be closing for good on Feb. 28, said DeMusis-Grady. The youngest child among four siblings, DeMusis-Grady is not only the namesake of Lynn's, but the outgoing personality at the register so many customers have come to know.
Or, as Borrelli described it, "She was the PR girl, and I did the cooking!"
Regular customers of Lynn's often earned playful nicknames coined by DeMusis-Grady, like "Handsome" and "Negative Nancy" (both came in on Feb. 28 to say goodbye). Others, like Bud Milles, earned a little gold plaque over their favorite table in the restaurant at 318 East Main Street. The restaurant opened 16 years ago, just a few blocks away from the family's first place of business at 365 East Main, where their mom opened the first Lynn's, named for DeMusis-Grady.
"She loved to have her name in lights," Borrelli said about her little sister. "There were four of us; and mommy opened the store and said, 'What am I going to name it?' And we said, 'Better name it Lynn's!' Because she was the baby! She got it all."
Bud Milles remembers walking in for his first take-out order at the original Lynn's well over 30 years ago. On Feb. 28, Milles and his friend and former co-worker, Joe Jiskra, shared some coffee at the corner table that's been specially reserved for Milles for over 20 years.
"I used to frequent Lynn's other place in 1980's. They didn't have as much over there as they have here. It was more of a take-out place," said Milles, who has been a long-time lunch fan of Lynn's roast beef on a hard roll or rye.
Milles and Jiskra said they will try to find somewhere else to meet up for lunch, but nothing will be as good as Lynn's.
"We've been coming in every day this week to stay for lunch and say goodbye," said Milles.
A couple of tables away, Norma and Angelo Dichello were trying to answer the same question – where will they go once Lynn's is gone?
"I guess I'll try to make it at home," said Norma Dichello, adding the couple made a point of not missing Lynn's last day. "We've been coming to Lynn's for years. We love the chicken cutlets, the roast beef... and she makes the best ham pie," an Easter specialty.
Friend and fan Monica Romano has been stopping in to grab lunch at Lynn's regularly for least eight years. She and her husband love anything that comes off the menu, but there are some items she's going to especially miss, said Romano.
"I love everything; but I really love their Paleo menu – that was my go-to," said Romano. "I have no idea what I'm going to do now! I guess I'm going to be making my own lunch!"
After giving Romano a hug and saying goodbye, DeMusis-Grady said the reality of this being the final day of businesses was beginning to really sink in.
"I'm emotional -- how can I not be? But it's so heartfelt, to feel all the love in the community. I mean, my God, the past two weeks -- it's been crazy. My bus driver from high school came in to say goodbye! There have been so many people I haven't seen in long time, which is so sweet. And my regulars are crying and bringing us presents. We're very humbled by all the love, and very grateful," said DeMusis-Grady.
The family will retain ownership of the restaurant building and wish the best of luck to new tenants Capone's Pizza Bar, making the move from 223 East Main St.
"Here, it was like home," said Borrelli. "We used to do our dinner parties here. This past Sunday, there were 16 of us, and I made dinner, and everyone went around the table and talked about what we've done here, because everyone in our family helped us. We wanted to sit there and chat, and we did. We had a great time."
As for the future, DeMusis-Grady is planning to branch out further with her work of five years as a local Coldwell Banker realtor. Borrelli, who retired from Lynn's last year only to come back and help out at the business this past Thanksgiving, Christmas and over the past two months, said the sisters are also planning to write a cookbook that will share many of the recipes that helped put Lynn's on the map as a local restaurant and sought-after catering company.
Borelli developed Lynn's tempting paleo chili and memorable lemon dressing as well as other favorites including baked macaroni and cheese. The most popular lunch order at the business has always been split between the chicken cutlets and roast beef, added DeMusis-Grady.
"Nobody roasts their own beef on the shoreline. We do," said DeMusis-Grady, noting they opened the kitchen each day at 4 a.m. and closed the business each day at 4 p.m.
The long hours the sisters shared serving the public at Lynn's restaurant did not include one day of the week – Sunday, at the direction of their mother, noted Borrelli.
"We could never be open on Sunday, because that was church day – but we catered! We worked a lot," said Borrelli.
One of Lynn's catering clients took an Uber from New Haven to get to the restaurant on it's last day. Bearing a dozen red roses, Terence Brown said he didn't want to miss the chance to say goodbye and thank-you to DeMusis-Grady.
"I worked at the Yale School of Medicine, and I forgot how I got Lynn's name, but I think it was through the grace of God," said Brown. "She was my number one, go-to person when I needed something. Even at last minute, she would pull it together for me -- and she'd make me dinner, too! She's wonderful. I also invited her to our holiday parties, because I wanted her to relax and enjoy herself! And I've never been here; she would always come to me. So I thought, 'Let me come to her.'"
Borrelli said she and her sister will miss coming back to work together, especially at the warm, windowed brick restaurant building at 318 East Main St.
"We were a great team," said DeMusis-Grady.
"We would finish each other's sentences," added Borrelli. "Sixteen years ago, we came to this location together. We turned it into a destination. We turned it into a home."