Within a couple of minutes of announcing on social media that The Longest Yard restaurant/bar on Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto will close its doors on Sunday May 1, responses poured in to owner Debra DeMonte.
Messages of sadness, fond memories, best wishes and even protests “no, please don’t close” continue to arrive from as faraway as Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, even as far away as Australia and Greece. The volume is a surprise. The Yard has been a landmark on Mt. Pleasant for nearly 30 years as a social gathering place, neighbourhood pub and family restaurant that promotes culinary, sports and political events.
For Debra, the decision to sell is bitter sweet. “Closing the restaurant is a lot harder than opening it in1987. The Yard has been an important part of my life. I’m overwhelmed that customers are as emotional as I am. Wrapping things up is heart wrenching. Sometimes I feel I’ve betrayed the many thousands of customers who have passed through our doors in the past three decades, but it’s time for me to move on.”
For Debra, the decision is a lifestyle choice. “I’ve rarely had a day off, let alone a vacation, in years and came to the conclusion that working all the time is not the way to live a balanced and healthy life.” She will, however, continue to own and operate The Longest Yard at 3313 Bloor Street West that opened in 2007, and will finally take a vacation with her extended family to Italy in July.
Saying goodbye is shaping up as a grand celebration. The Yard’s final Lobster Fest on Monday April 25 (with the lobsters flown in seawater fresh from Nova Scotia that morning) is filling up fast with advanced bookings for sittings at 5.30 pm and 8 pm. The Yard inaugurated semi-annual Lobster Fest in 2003 and it remained a popular event.
The celebration will culminate on Saturday April 30 with an all-day Farewell Party. Past and current customers, some of whom have been regulars for decades, will take the microphone to share memories of the good times, arguments about sports and politics, and reflect on a special place where they met their true love and made life-long friends.
Many customers first visited The Yard as babies and small children, worked as servers to put themselves through university, and came back as adult customers with their own families.
Debra is a well-known figure in the Toronto restaurant business and at City Hall. For 26 years, she served as a director and the first female chair for two terms of the Toronto restaurant industry’s association and a director of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association.
John Oakes, owner and operator of The Harbord House on Harbord Road, Toronto and a longtime restaurateur, will open a new restaurant at The Yard’s Mt. Pleasant location in May under the name the Belize Public House.