An institution burns down

Kevin Yarr

by Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca

Charlottetown's Maid Marian's Diner was gutted by fire last Wednesday night, a total loss.

Maid Marian's Diner, gutted by fire

The story was one of the most read on the CBC website the next day. Not bad for a small town greasy spoon, and you have to wonder what would spark such interest. The fare at Maid Marian's was what you would have expected - turkey dinner, two-for-one cheeseburger nights, pie, milkshakes, eggs for breakfast - but it was well done and reasonably priced.

It created an attraction that defied demographic analysis. Young people knew the breakfast as a hangover cure, some seniors ate three meals a day there, and it was a classic stop for families. When a friend of my eight-year-old daughter asked on the playground Thursday "Who likes Maid Marian's?" only one child needed to be reminded of what it was, and joined all the others in raising her hand.

Maid Marian's was the kind of place that looked like it had been there for as long as anyone could remember, but in fact opened in the late 1980s. That it developed such a sense of permanence, and such loyalty amongst its customers, was not a testament to the food.

At this point many regulars would be reminding me how fabulous the turkey gravy was, how bountiful the breakfast, and how you just couldn't get pie like that anywhere else. Still, I maintain it wasn't about the food. It was about a simple, welcoming atmosphere.

Consider the story of 89-year-old Clifton Stewart, whose breakfast was on the table at Maid Marian's every day at 7 a.m., whether he had arrived yet or not, and who would get a call to make sure he was OK if he was running later than usual.

There are lots of restaurants that serve up basic food for reasonable prices, but the broad-based appeal of Maid Marian's was something special. The business was covered by insurance, and the owners intend to rebuild on the same location. They hope to reopen in September or October.

Canada Games notwithstanding, it will likely be P.E.I.'s biggest party this year.

What restaurant in your town would you miss the most?