So Long, Jerry!

Tomorrow, my neighbourhood of Parkdale loses one of its most interesting citizens.

After 19 years of standing behind a counter every day, Jerry of Jerry’s Fish and Chips will be retiring. He will chop those potatoes, and batter that fish for the very last time.

Originally from Guyana, where he left in fear because he was a political dissident, Jerry spent many years in South America before ending up in Toronto. He took over a little hole in the wall chippy previously owned by a Greek family (the sign outside still says “Mom’s Fish and Chips”), and served up fish, chips and burgers to the locals, particularly to the kids from the high school next door.

Always with a smile and a wave for everyone, Jerry has handed out more than his fair share of freebies over the years to kids who were hungry but had no money to pay. When I broke my arm a couple of years ago, I’d head up to Jerry’s almost every day for lunch. One New Year’s Eve, we walked past just before midnight and he was still in the shop cleaning (cleanest hole in the wall joint EVER!). He waved Greg and I in, and pulled a bottle of brandy from under the counter and we toasted the new year together.

It wasn’t much of a place, just a narrow room with a counter, and no place to sit, although there were video games for the kids at the back. The menu hung above the grill, tattered from years of heat and grease, the prices crossed out and rewritten in chalk from the odd occasion Jerry was forced to raise the price.

The food was pretty typical; greasy, salt, as good fish and chips should be. But Jerry insisted on quality – hand cut fries, and fresh fish, battered to order. It was some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had.

A few years ago, Jerry began wearing a neck brace; years of standing bent over the fryer or the counter had taken its toll and he was advised to retire then. He held out until this year and finally decided to call it quits. In typical Jerry fashion, he kept the place open until the end of the school year to keep the kids happy.

Jerry’s plans include travelling (he’s going back to Guyana for the first time in 30 years and will spend about 6 months with family before returning to Toronto), and then just takin’ it easy. We wish him well, but we will definitely miss him.

The landlord has decided that he doesn’t want another food place in there, so all the fixtures will be sold off and the space renovated. Within a week, the chippy will be nothing more than a pleasant memory in the minds of generations of Parkdalians.

We stopped by last night for our very last serving of Jerry’s Fish and Chips, made even more salty than usual by the tears we shed at watching a landmark disappear.