The wait is over in Ormstown.
Almost one full year after a fire devastated the Express 57 restaurant, owner Claude Gervais surprised area fast-food aficionados by reopening the takeout counter of his famed diner on July 19.
“It was really busy,” says an overwhelmed Gervais who, along with his staff, filled 150 orders during their first lunch and supper back behind the grill. The grand reopening also marked the inauguration of the restaurant’s festive new terrace, which includes several picnic tables facing out onto Lambton Street. He says the whole experience has been a lot to manage, as he continues to renovate and restore the dining area which was destroyed during an overnight fire last July 26. The goal is to reopen completely in September. In the meantime, Gervais says he is “really happy to be getting back to serving his customers.”
The take-out counter is now located on the opposite side of the historic building that houses the restaurant, as is the kitchen. The walls, ceilings, and floors in the main dining area have now been completed, and new windows were recently installed. “We are getting there,” says Gervais. Now he is focused on recreating the beloved eatery’s trademark fifties-era decor.
When asked if he considered walking away after the fire, Gervais shakes his head. “I could have taken the insurance money and done something else with myself,” he admits. “But the restaurant has a cult following, and I felt like I had to bring it back,” he smiles.
Having moved on from the fire, the restaurant owner is also grateful for the support he has received over the past year. “The community is behind us,” he says, recalling the GoFundMe campaign that raised over $8,300 to help replace the collectibles that add to the restaurant’s charm. “Everyone has been really nice,” he adds, suggesting he appreciates the love that has radiated his way.
Reopening in style
The Express 57 sign, and the iconic image of Betty Boop, have been installed on the brick wall outside the restaurant. Certain elements of the original decor are also visible from the take-out counter, including a cut-out of Marilyn Monroe that was brought back to life by artist Loraine Lamb Lalonde, who has also restored the Express 57 Hot Rod “Coke button.”
“Claude was more than happy to let me ‘express’ myself with my own touches on these items,” says Lamb Lalonde, who shares his love for old movies and memorabilia. She and Gervais are also busy cooking up something special for the interior walls of the restaurant.
“I admire Claude’s creativity, enthusiasm, and perseverance,” says Lamb Lalonde. “Steve [her partner] and I had our own experience with a fire a number of years ago, and we remember what the support from our community meant to us,” she notes, before adding, “It’s just one of the things that’s great about living in a place like the Valley.”
Generosity on display
An Ormstown native, Gervais is also keenly aware of the area’s special qualities. He is a staunch supporter of local businesses, a generous neighbour, and a big believer in Ormstown’s potential. “We are all together in this town as a group to attract more people and to make this place what it should be!” he exclaims, insisting there is no competition between store owners along the town’s main drag.
In fact, during the past year, Gervais has worked closely with The Gleaner to promote area entrepreneurs. “During his restaurant renovation, Claude generously supported local businesses by donating his prime advertising space on the front page, fostering community growth and prosperity,” says Dianna Chycki, the sales and marketing manager for the bi-weekly newspaper. “His act of kindness sets an example for others to follow, showcasing the positive impact of small gestures in our neighborhood,” she continues.
The gesture didn’t come as a surprise to Zoë Gillies, who owns the Grenier de Zoë clothing store in Ormstown. “Even when he lost everything, he was giving,” she says, noting that beyond the advertising space, he also donated to her store. “Having a business brings so many worries. It is not always easy, and when a business closes on a small main street, especially something as popular as Express 57, it affects everyone,” she says. “We are so very excited to have Express 57 back!” she exclaims.