McGregor Says: Choo Choo’s comes to the end of the line

“Boards on the windows, mail by the door, doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore, oh Choo Choo’s, where have you gone?”

With apologies to ‘The Band,’ that song lyric has been the conversation on the streets of downtown Langley this past week.

After nearly a quarter century of being Langley’s family restaurant, Terry and Helene have closed the doors of their popular gathering place.

For many families, Choo Choo’s was where you celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, winning tournaments or just the annual get together.  Generations of children or grandchildren have sat on parents’ or grandparents’ knees and watched expectantly for the train running along the top of the wall to come out of the tunnel.

Many meals were punctuated by a little voice yelling, “There it comes again, Grandpa!”

Whenever I recommended it to someone as a place to eat, they would ask, “What is their menu like?” I would describe their meals as ‘Langley Prairie food.’ Hearty, homemade soups, thick stews or goulash, juicy chicken and sizzling steaks and schnitzels. Always plenty of food on the plate to make you sit back and say, “Whoa, I’m full,” until the tray of cakes and pastries arrived.

There is the story about the two astronauts who failed in an attempt to open a restaurant on the moon, there was just no atmosphere. That was never the case at Choo Choo’s.

The walls were lined with memorabilia, some local, some Canadian and some from around the world. Often, a black and white photo or a rusted sign would spawn a conversation and there was always a healthy, friendly buzz greeting you as you were guided to your table.

As a family-run restaurant, they always respected the families that came back time and time again, watching customers’ kids grow and always being on top of what was happening in the community.

Many groups and organizations would plan meetings or Christmas parties and a party planner only had to say, “We’ll be meeting in the back room at Choo Choo’s,” and no other instructions were needed. Few charities were ever turned down when they asked for a donation of a gift certificate for a silent auction fundraiser.

But as rewarding as working with family is, there are challenges as well. I worked in a family business for a few years and while we often celebrated our successes together we shared the gloom of the tough times as well. Problems at work came home to the kitchen table and problems at home found their way to the workplace. A family business is a lot like walking a tightrope, just don’t look down.

Someone always has to be there to open and close, so a family vacation is not really in the plans. If there is time to shut down, that is spent painting or fixing things.

Inventory is taken late at night or you come in early and meetings with accountants or suppliers are carried out on the fly from the edge of your cluttered desk because the customers are waiting and it always seems that special person arrives just when you are the busiest and an employee has phoned in sick.

Terry and Helene, well done, and thanks for sharing your family and your passion with the Langley community for so many successful years.

Flick the switch off, give that busy little train a rest and get your lives back on track.

At least that’s what McGregor says.