In 1959, Tony and Christina Juurlink opened a family restaurant that would later be one of the most well-known food establishments in Pictou County.
Westside Family Restaurant was open for eight years until, sadly, in 1967 Tony Juurlink passed away. Their son, John Juurlink, teamed up with his mother to help run the Westside Restaurant full time. In 1979, John and Wilma Juurlink took over the restaurant for the next 50 years. This is their story.
Back in the 60s, family helped family. “If there was a job to be done, you just did it; that was just the way it was back then,” John smiled.
John worked as a cook, parking lot sweeper, and did odd jobs as his parents requested; he also worked a part-time job at Sobeys. Wilma MacRae was a waitress “curb girl” at the Westside Family Restaurant, both were 15 years old when they met.
“I didn’t have a SIN number then when I started working. I told the Juurlinks I would get one in a little bit,” Wilma laughed, not knowing she had to be 16 to have one. As a curb girl, Wilma worked for about a year and a half at the Westside Restaurant then left for Halifax. Later she met up with John in Halifax, or, as Wilma says, “I think John followed me there because we had dated.”
While in the city, John started working for two different Sobeys stores — “one in the Halifax area and one out in the boonies he told me,” Wilma laughs.
In 1969, they decided to come home to Pictou County. They took over the Westside Family Restaurant, married in 1969 and began their own family of three children — daughter Christina and sons Dave and Tony, all of whom worked after school and on weekends doing what needed to be done.
Christina recalls, “I used to go put the ketchup on the tables when I was a little girl. When I turned 16, I waitressed while I was in high school, then went on to university. When I came home on holidays, breaks or for the summer I would work at the restaurant. I lived in the city until 2016, I returned to help my Mom and Dad for the last few years until their retirement this year.”
Wilma remembers of her initial task at the restaurant: “Back in the day, customers would blink their lights on their cars to receive service. A waitress “curb girl” would take the order and deliver it to that car. The cars would line up for four or five lanes to get food at the drive-in. I remember the parking lot was full of garbage and John would go out and sweep it clean.”
John added, “Sobeys used to close around five or six, so we had the whole parking lot for customers.”
“We got to know our customers and their regular orders. John would have their meal started before they sat down. Sometimes you didn’t know their name, you just knew them by what they ate,” Wilma said and they both nodded.
Westside Family restaurant had a few celebrities drop in for a bite to eat. Stompin Tom Connors, Food Critic Bill Spur, (who gave an amazing review on John’s famous chocolate cake with boiled icing and his homemade onion rings), Diego Klattenhoff, aka FBI agent Donald Ressler of the TV show The Black List, Wayne Ronstad from TV’s On the Road Again and Nova Scotia’s own The Rankin Family, just to list a few.
In 1992, John and Wilma opened the Eastside Family Restaurant in the Chisholm Center, New Glasgow, for eight years. Fraser Chisholm sold the center, then John and Wilma relocated the Eastside Family Restaurant to 770 East River Road in 2010, where it is still open today.
More than 50 guests attended John and Wilma’s 50th retirement party, held recently at the Eastside Family Restaurant. Christina says, “It’s a little sad, but I am very happy for both my parents; they can now relax and enjoy retirement after working seven days a week. My brothers and I had a great childhood because of their hard work. It is going to be great to see them enjoy their life and retirement, they deserve it.”
With tears Wilma sighs, “Our customers were like family; when they hurt, we hurt, when they were happy, we were happy, I am so thankful for each of them and the memories.”
John added, “Everyone was family; they were there for so many years, we got to know entire families, their children, their grandchildren, they were all a part of us, and we thank them.”
Eastside Family Restaurant’s newest owners are Pam Smith, who worked as a waitress, and Wendy Carde a cook for the restaurant. Smith and Carde will work together to run the restaurant to full capacity. With both of their experience and knowledge, Eastside will have the same, great service and friendly family atmosphere.
John and Wilma Juurlink are now proud retirees and say they feel blessed to have given 50 years of service to family, friends, and customers, at the Westside and Eastside family restaurants. (Livingstone photo)