Home-Town Owner, Diners Lament His Restaurant’s Demise

May 28, 2024
Here is the Friday crew at Peppers Grille. Jim Morris is in middle of the top row. Photo by Mike Rosenberg

Jim Morris says he opened Peppers Grille seven years ago “to give back to the community which gave to me growing up,” through a place “where people could go and feel like it was a part of their town.”

As he prepares to close the restaurant – “not of my choice” – at the end of this week, there’s a celebration of life unfolding in that Great Road Shopping Center oasis, with the patient vibrant and animated, even as the end draws near.

“The outpouring of support since our announcement has been staggering,” Morris said. “The love and compassion are much more than I ever could have imagined. I will be grateful forever.”

Earlier this month Morris, 61, posted an all-caps notice on the front door reporting that the owner of the complex had leased Peppers’s storefront space to another business and he would have to vacate on May 31.

There was an outpouring on social media, most of it praise and lamentation. Morris said a few customers have been in tears as they come in and say goodbye. 

Morris didn’t want to discuss the details leading to this outcome. He just said, “The cold, hard reality of a business decision which I had no control over. Thousands upon thousands of hours erased so quickly and without much notice.”

The Great Road Shopping Center, owned by the Atlantic Interests Limited Partnership of Needham, is one of Bedford’s largest property taxpayers with an assessed valuation of almost $40 million.   

On Friday at around 6:45 p.m., every chair at Peppers was full – tables and booths and a dozen seats around the bar: a young couple with a toddler, 11 women representing the Garden and Social Clubs, some of Morris’s former neighbors. A guy came through the front door and peeked inside, saying, “I should have made reservations.” Most people didn’t know each other, but it felt like they all did.

Some diners said that they have been coming in every day since hearing the news. 

“Devastating,” a woman said to a bartender. “It’s a tough business,” she replied. 

After years of operating a successful restaurant in Maynard, Morris took advantage of a vacant restaurant space in the shopping center. George and Effie Stamatakos, proprietors of Sparta for 39 years, had retired in 2015.

Morris spent most of that time in the kitchen. He is not a culinary school alumnus. 

“I trained in the trenches,” he said, starting at age 14 when he caught the 62 Bus on The Great Road and rode to a seafood place in Arlington. But of particular impact were the recipes and techniques he learned from relatives on trips to Greece. Now, “everything that’s on the menu I conceived.”

He said he wanted to run a place offering “authentic home cooked meals at reasonable prices” with the vibe of “Cheers,” the neighborhood bar that was the centerpiece of a popular television program in the 1980s and ’90s. “Our motto was, ‘Come in a customer, leave a friend.’” 

Morris pointed to Peppers’s consistent response to appeals for support from sports programs, clubs and organizations, musical productions. 

Peppers Grille will be closing down after seven years on Friday, May 31. Photo by Mike Rosenberg

“Supporting their community when needed, rallying behind special causes, giving back to make Bedford a special place, making residents proud to say they live here – that’s what makes a strong community,” he said.

Peppers handled corporate events, retirement parties, family reunions. 

“Food is a centerpiece to draw the family together for whatever reason,” Morris said. 

The restaurant tried live musical entertainment and wine tastings. A sandwich board outside proclaimed that Wednesday will be the final appearance at Peppers by local vocalist Ben Couvee.

Morris recapped a special highlight five years ago when he and the rest of the players and coaches on the 1979 boys’ soccer team were inducted into the Bedford High School sports Hall of Fame. After the ceremony, they reconvened at Peppers, “one of Bedford’s own hosting Bedford’s own, to catch up on the journeys our lives have taken. Our friendships instantly picked up where they left off.”

He pointed out that this kind of response “shows today’s students that even after our school days have long been over and life has taken us down so many different paths it is important to teach them they mustn’t forget their roots.

“I look out on a busy Friday night and see so many people laughing and having fun, enjoying each other’s company. My heart breaks that I will no longer be able to provide this service to our ‘friends,’” Morris said. “Even though the kitchen is hectic, my body is tired, it is well worth it when I look out and see the happiness we bring.”

He praised his 15 part-time staff members for delivering on his philosophy. 

“They provide personalized service. They get to know our customers and build friendships. I never could have come this far without them.” He added that his message to the staff was, “Let’s focus on the seven good years we had, not on the last five minutes of the fight.”

Morris said he is considering a menu that’s only buffet on the final day so he can personally speak with customers and well-wishers.

He said he has no immediate plans other than to “take time to regroup, decompress, get myself settled mentally, and spend some time with my kids.” Then he hopes to find “a good fit for me, stress-free, with a better work-life balance.”

But for now, “It is very emotional and difficult for me, very sad, disappointing and heartbreaking.”

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Heather Limerick
May 30, 2024 8:58 am

This was beautiful! Thank you for all the laughs, tears & and amazing food! We love you Jimmy!

Greg & Heather

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