BRENTWOOD — Bessie’s Lunch, a local institution on Route 125, has closed after serving customers for 65 years.
“It really is sad. It’s my grandmother’s name,” said Mary Anderson. Her late grandparents, Merton and Bessie Healey, were the original owners who started Bessie’s as a takeout stand in Raymond in the mid-1950s.
The diner that was a gathering spot for locals and travelers passing through town for so long shut its doors on Sunday.
Property owner Louis Gargiulo said the restaurant’s operator, Michael Hamilton, has struggled to find help over the past six months. He said a restaurant labor shortage was “90 percent” of the reason why it closed.
“He was working an endless number of hours. As a result of that he decided at this point in time it wasn’t for him to continue. He just couldn’t do it any longer without having enough people,” said Gargiulo, who leased the diner to Hamilton.
Hamilton declined to comment on the closure Monday morning.
Anderson, 65, recalled how her grandparents started Bessie’s on what is now Route 27 in Raymond in the mid-1950s. It served takeout only at the time and burned within the first couple of years after opening. After the fire, Bessie’s moved to a new location downtown, where it offered seating, and the family eventually built a new diner on Route 107 in Fremont in the 1960s.
Bessie’s menu in its early days included sandwiches and fried food and was known for its “two hot dogs for a quarter” deal. It was expanded over the years to include other diner fare.
Anderson, a Fremont native, said the diner had carhops back in the day.
“That restaurant’s been around for a long time,” said Anderson, who worked at Bessie’s with other family members while she was in school and then as an adult. She continued to help out even after she became a teacher; she worked at Pinkerton Academy in Derry for 39 years before retiring as headmaster in 2014.
Anderson said that when her grandparents retired in the 1970s her parents, Hollis and Ruth Anderson, bought Bessie’s and moved the diner to its current location at 266 Route 125 in Brentwood.
The Andersons owned the property until the early 1990s when it was purchased by the Gallant family. Ron Gallant eventually took over and sold it to Gargiulo last year.
Roy Morrisette of Exeter recalled bringing his mother and sister to Bessie’s on Saturday evenings after church to get a “homestyle meal for a reasonable price.”
“The nice part was running into other Exeter people and locals I knew and catching up with them,” he said.
While the diner’s future is uncertain, Gargiulo said he hopes something might happen within the next two to three months.
“I’ve received a number of calls from interested parties. At this point it’s closed, but there’s a lot of interest in it reopening,” he said. “Maybe somebody else will have more success or bring people with them.”
When asked if it’s possible that the restaurant would reopen as Bessie’s Lunch, Gargiulo said he’s not sure.
Anderson knows what she would like to see happen.
“I just hope there’s another Bessie’s Lunch some day,” she said.