CONCORD, Ont. - The food is home-cooked, the atmosphere cozy and the service friendly - maybe that's why trucker Bob Faulkner, 65, has been going out of his way to frequent the Pinecrest Restaurant and Truck Stop for more than 30 years.
FAMILY VALUES: Pinecrest Restaurant and Truck Stop part owner Kay Nikolakakos (centre) and sister-in-law Angela have been regularly welcoming customers like truck driver Bob Faulkner since the late ’60s. The restaurant was one of the first in Toronto where truckers were allowed to park their rigs. Read more on p. 26.Photo by Ingrid Phaneuf
FREE SMILES: Bill, Kay and Angela Nikolakakos behind the counter with “ladies man” and cook extraordinaire Terry. Photo by Ingrid Phaneuf
CONCORD, Ont. – The food is home-cooked, the atmosphere cozy and the service friendly – maybe that’s why trucker Bob Faulkner, 65, has been going out of his way to frequent the Pinecrest Restaurant and Truck Stop for more than 30 years.
“I started coming here in the late ’60s and I’ve been coming back ever since,” said the blue eyed Toronto-area trucking veteran, during a hearty breakfast at the restaurant located on the south side of Hwy. 7, between Jane and Keele.
“I was coming here when that waitress over there was still a little girl.”
The waitress in question – Angela Nikolakakos – is now the salt and pepper haired sister-in-law of Kay Nikolakakos, one half of the husband and wife team who own and operate one of Toronto’s oldest family-owned truck stops.
Kay was born in Kalamata, Greece. Her husband Bill was born in Sparta.
“We grew up with a mountain between us,” joked Kay.
Indeed, the two only met when they came to Canada. But it was a match made in heaven – and a little bit of that heaven is what the couple and their relatives share with their customers every day.
“Back in the ’60s, this was the only truck stop in Toronto where you could park your truck,” said Bob, who’s also a big fan of the food Bill cooks up at the grill, separated from one of two cozy dining areas by a counter.
“The food here is clean,” said Bob. ” It tastes home-cooked and healthy – not greasy like fast food. And the prices are good for what you get.”
Indeed there’s very little about the place that resembles the fast food joints that litter Ontario’s highways – certainly not the sort of place where a “lot lizard” would feel comfortable.
The decor is strikingly homey – it’s clean and there are plants and curtains and a counter and bar that stands between two main eating areas that are square – so you can see everyone in the room at the same time. There are maps on the wall and a clock with a Pete on its face. But most striking of all are the more than 300 souvenir plates from all over the world, hung up on every available inch of the restaurant’s walls, plates from Graceland and Disneyland and Florida and Mexico, plates from all over the continent, as well as a few places that aren’t accessible by truck, like London and Greece.
“Our customers brought a lot of them in for us, and some of them we brought back from trips, but we don’t go on many trips,” laughed Kay.
Indeed, Kay and her husband rarely close the restaurant, open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner and Saturday for breakfast and lunch.
“Saturdays we get more of a local crowd,” said Kay, who has obviously gotten to know many of her customers over the years.
She knows them so well, in fact, that they send her Christmas cards and wedding and baby pictures, which she keeps in a photo album behind the bar. She even keeps a copy of a card sent by a trucker’s wife, who thanked her for taking such good care of her husband.
Given the number of truckers who drop by the place, it’s touching that Kay and Bill seem to hold such a special place in their hearts for so many of them.
“We have a good friend from Quebec – a regular whose name is Norm. But we haven’t heard from him in three or four weeks, so we’re getting worried,” said Kay nodding to Bill, who nods back in agreement (Bill is the “silent” partner). “If you write something about this place tell Norm we want him to call home. ‘NORM PHONE HOME,'” she said laughing.
(So Norm, wherever you are – phone home!)
Indeed, many friendships have been forged over the years at the Pinecrest Restaurant and Truck Stop, between truckers and others who gather there, as well as between truckers and the staff.
And many truckers will even admit to going out of their way to drop by, even if it’s for only 20 minutes, some on their way to or back from a long haul down south or out west, or in for a day trip from Quebec.
“Don’t tell my boss I was here,” joked one. “I don’t want him thinking I’m loafing on the job.”
The chances of loafing for long are pretty slim however, given the speed of the service and the fact Kay and Angela put everyone they serve in such a good mood they’re up and ready to go in a matter of minutes.
Of course there’s always one customer who’s out of luck and there for the day, sipping what seems like a bottomless pot of coffee and looking to bend a friendly ear while he waits for his next load, or for his truck to be repaired.
The Pinecrest staff has seen all kinds since 1969, when toast and coffee cost 25 cents and a hearty breakfast cost 75 cents, and Kay and Bill first opened the joint.
On Sept.11, staff and customers celebrated 35 years in business at the same location (Kay and Bill celebrated their 36th anniversary just prior to the event.) All proceeds were donated to the Toronto Children’s Breakfast Club.
The anniversary event was in conjunction with a Pinecrest Speedway Reunion presented by the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, sponsored by Ted Wolyshyn of CFRB, The Ontario Late Model Drivers’ Association and the Thornhill Cruisers car club. There was plenty of memorabilia from the golden years of stock car racing at the oval track located behind the restaurant, which closed down in 1976.
Pinecrest Restaurant and Truck Stop is located at 2661 Hwy. 7, between Jane and Keele, on the south side.
It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday for breakfast and lunch.