Every town has its local favorite breakfast place where everyone seems to meet at one point or another. It’s 6 AM for the early risers, and 9 AM or 10 AM for the local workers and politicians. Weekends bring the moms and dads with the kids. This is what makes a small town a pleasant place to live, and Ashland is no exception.
Today I would like to visit a restaurant downtown known as Sunnyside Restaurant, but to longtime residents and patrons, it was Wally’s.
During the war years of WWII, many people were employed by Telechron on Homer Avenue. Telechron was to Ashland as Dennison was to Framingham. Seemed like everyone worked there, and local resident, Walter Pearson, was one of them. After work, most people either went home, or on to a second job. Walter saw the legions of workers heading out the plant and figured he had an excellent opportunity to put up a stand and sell popcorn.
As the real estate people say, “location, location, location” is the key. He set up his stand at the Ashland Taxi Stand owned by Bill and Freddie Moore. Today, we know the building as the old train station currently occupied by Dr. Jangi.
Business was very good, and soon people were looking for more than popcorn. Around 1946, Walter and his wife Alice decided to open a small restaurant in the building which housed Pa Romeo’s Grocery, and Bean’s variety store. Today that building is Lunker’s, though most people probably remember it as the Ashland News Store. After 14 years, they found the need to expand again, and moved to a new location in the group of stores to the right of Town Hall. At the time, Walter’s neighbors in that block were the Ashland Apothecary, Dr. Kramer the Dentist, Phil Martino’s shoe shop, and the barbershop run by Moe Todisco and Tommy Kinder.
The new restaurant seated 35, and needed a new name. A contest was held at Ashland High School to name the restaurant, and the consensus was to name it “Wally’s.” Big surprise there. Wally’s continued to prosper and grow, adding full-time staff which also included Walter’s daughter Janice. But again, the need to find a bigger place became apparent. Looking for something local, and preferably downtown, Walter focused on a parcel of land next to Talvy Bros. Florist on Front Street. The year is now 1970, and Walter bought the land and built his last restaurant.
While I remember the restaurant on Main Street, the one next to Talvy’s is where we spent more of our time during high school. “Wally” as we called him by now was a permanent fixture downtown, and was always a community spirited individual. He employed special needs students from Keefe Technical School, and provided them with the opportunity to train in the workplace. It was important for Wally and Alice to create a family environment for these students making sure a birthday, or any other special occasion was not missed. And there was an added bonus: every week they received a paycheck.
Wally also hosted a “Coffee Break” on Thursday nights. The Citizens Band radio was popular in the mid-seventies, and Wally, whose CB handle was “Dipsy Doodle” as I remember, would host the local CB’ers for dinner and local entertainment. This was his way of participating as well as providing.
Time marches on though. Wally passed away in 1982, and the decision was made to sell the restaurant. The land was to remain in the family and willed to Wally’s son Lenny. The business, however, was sold to local resident Dennis Provencial and his wife Lisa in 1983. The named was changed to Sunnyside Restaurant, and they operated it under that name until it was purchased by Mel and Norman Bloomstein. Mel had a restaurant in Wayland, and Norman had one in Holliston. Next in the list of owners was Eric Tonkonogy, who eventually sold to Mark MacKay from Ashland. Mark ran the restaurant as “Sunnyside” from 2001 to 2012, selling it to its present owner Aleks Keka from Peabody. Aleks remains there today. I had the opportunity to speak with both Aleks and Mark MacKay at the same time for today’s visit where Mark was filling in as the “mystery chef.”
This was quite a journey from a popcorn cart to a full-sized restaurant, and even though it has changed many hands, and the sign says “Sunnyside,” I’ll always remember it as “Wally’s.”
Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions