Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Last Ponderosa set to close

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MONCTON, N.B. -- It's the end of an era as Moncton's Ponderosa Restaurant, the last in a chain of nearly 150 restaurants that once spanned the country, will close its doors in the next two weeks.

Restaurant-owner Colin Coady said this week attendance at the 35-year-old eatery has dropped steadily as customer tastes changed. Add to that rising costs, a changing labour market and the fact he is 55, and Coady decided to call it quits.

"It's a real shame," Coady said of the loss, mentioning the longest-serving employee has been at the restaurant 10,035 days.

Wedged somewhere between a fast-food and a sit-down restaurant, the Ponderosa and related Bonanza chains were named after a popular mid-20th century television show. Bonanza depicted the adventures of the Cartwright family who lived on the Ponderosa Ranch. The chain spread throughout North America, however, it all but folded in Canada by the end of the 1980s as tastes and the competitive market changed.

Although the brand was dying off elsewhere, Colin's brother, Dave Coady, saw the potential to keep six of the restaurants afloat in the Maritimes, where things take longer to change. He had been the corporation's district manager for Atlantic Canada and decided to buy the eastern stores.

He improved the menu offerings, most notably replacing Ponderosa's frozen imported beef from Australia with fresh Canadian meat. The recipe for success was affordable family dining coupled with an elaborate all-you-can-eat salad bar, at least until now. The Moncton store is the last one left standing.

Coady has given the 40 staff members notice so they can start the job hunt and says no one will be left hanging without a final paycheque. Still, Coady can't say for certain when the exact final day will be.

"We will go as long as we can with the staff we have."

He also noted the death of longtime and much-loved manager Donald Jaillet last year played a role in the decision to close. Jaillet, who died of cancer, started at the restaurant as a teenager and spent his entire career there. He is remembered as an enduring leader for the staff and a friendly face for customers.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2010 A16

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