Brinkley’s is much more than just a restaurant and lounge. It has been a family, a community, a “village” for more than 25 years. Actually the 24-hour, breakfast around the clock, gathering place has been around for even longer than that. It has been a part of the neighborhood and community for probably at least 30 years. Unfortunately, with the death of its well-beloved owner, Hemant Shah, at the beginning of the year, it looks as if we may be losing it to another run of the mill lunch/dinner restaurant. That makes me extremely sad.
Much of what made Brinkley’s so unique was the fact that it was one of the few 24-hour local restaurants, as highlighted in the News-Press Restaurant Spotlight feature back in November of 2005. They describe it as “the kind of place where food is as comfortable as a warm blanket on a cold winter night, and it’s served up around the clock.” It goes on to quote Hem as saying that “the place is busiest between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning.” Now it appears as though all of that will be lost.
Also lost will be the highly popular weekend breakfast bar, an inexpensive option of down home cooking for the neighborhood locals, who can gather with friends and family for a good meal and good conversation without a line of people breathing down your neck waiting for your table, as is the case in some nearby chains.
The customers and workers of Brinkley’s seem to build a bond that lingers on long after a person has moved on to another job or another residence. This was shown to be especially true at the memorial service for Hem where people who were associated with the establishment came back with heavy hearts and tear stained eyes to tell wonderful stories of a man they loved, who always took the time to speak with them, offer them a sampling of one of his own personal dishes (Hem was an excellent cook), or just offer up one of his many funny jokes, or flash you with that beaming smile. It is just so sad to think that the legacy he built for about half of his short life will be gone.
What will become of the regulars and all others who have stumbled upon the place late at night, or noticed the ‘serving breakfast round the clock’ sign and meandered in, or who just appreciate walking into a place that feels like home where the workers know your special preferences, and have them sitting on the table for you before you even get out of your car and into the door? You won’t get that kind of service at your local chain where turnover is often great and time is of the essence to get you in and out as fast as possible.
I found a safe haven at Brinkley’s, among people who cared and showed me kindness with much more than just a cup of coffee.
Most employees that have worked at Brinkley’s have done so long-term. A bartender that left not long ago to venture out on his own had been an employee for at least 20 years. Many employees have been loyal to Hem and his kind heart, as well as his trips to Atlantic City, cookouts, football gatherings in the bar to watch his beloved (and often frustrating) Redskins, and so much more that he provided to his employees. He wasn’t just their boss; he was also a friend, ‘uncle’, a mentor, often to many just starting out in this country.
It was the same with his customers. I found solace at Brinkley’s, not only from Hem, but also from many employees when I lost both of my parents only six weeks apart. I found a safe haven there among people who cared and showed me kindness with much more than just a cup of coffee. They listened, they often gave a hug when I cried, and they tried to lift my spirits throughout the entire ordeal. That’s what friends and family do – hold you up in the hard times, laugh with you during the good times, and just be there.
Over the many, many years that I have been going to Brinkley’s I have met some wonderful people, many who still remain friends. There are those I only know by first name, those who still drop in whenever in the area, although they now live in Tennessee (and have been unable to find anything close to their Brinkley’s ‘home). There are those with whom I’ve shared birthday’s, losses of loved ones, fun times playing putt-putt, more difficult times, such as getting my parents’ home cleaned out, moving, etc. – all the experiences that make up life.
I know that Hem is gone and that life must go on. I only wish that those taking over would look at the value of history, loyalty, character, and build on what is there rather than erase it all, along with all of us who consider it “home.” What’s wrong with building on Brinkley’s individuality?
Sure, make some upgrades, menu changes or additions, but don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water.” You’ve got a good base to build on with loyal people who will continue to bring their friends and family for years to come, just as has been going on for the past 25+ years.
Sure change can be good, but uniqueness, loyalty, history, family and friendship can be even better. The loss of Brinkley’s would leave a great void for the local community, and all those who pass through it from destinations across the country.