Forty or so people dressed in mostly black gathered last weekend to sip coffee together in the icy parking lot of Finnegan's Family Restaurant. Jessica "Jonnie" Sangray Scheible wore her green Finnegan's uniform to the makeshift funeral and sold "I (heart) Finnegan's" bumpers stickers for $3.
Scheible, a Finnegan's waitress and bookkeeper who's worked at the restaurant for the past 11 years with her husband, Eric, was one of 40 employees laid off last week when the restaurant abruptly closed its doors. She said the restaurant had recently pulled its billboard near the Broadway exit of I-90 because of financial issues, a move that may have made it even easier for cars to bypass Finnegan's for the glut of Reserve Street restaurants. But that was just the straw that broke the busboy's back: The lull in business, she said, has been going on for years.
"I do the books so I saw it happening," she said. "I just didn't know how bad it was."
The loss of Finnegan's isn't just about jobs or about one more business biting the dust. The 24-hour restaurant was a particularly well-loved meeting spot for a strange brew of regulars dosing on bottomless cups of coffee and 2 a.m. cheese fries. During its 23 years as Finnegan's—and previously as a similar restaurant called the Apple Tree—it's been where parents brought their kids for grilled cheese sandwiches on weekend afternoons. It's where seniors went for practical meals. It's where college kids pulled all-nighters. It's where high school punks, poets, fantasy geeks and thespians—the latter donning black nail polish and carrying packs of community cigarettes—settled in for a night of philosophizing with friends.
In the late afternoon, after the funeral group had mostly dispersed, Scheible and a few others stood on the catwalk and fed the ducks that live in the creek below the restaurant for the last time with bread donated by Subway. Behind them, the windows revealed empty pie display cases and a kitchen stripped of appliances. It seems a shocking scene for those who made the place their second home. Biggest tragedy ever? Perhaps not. But the place had a lot of diehard fans. On the Finnegan's Facebook fan page, customers and employees alike still swap stories and describe the closure as "bottomlessly depressing" and "an outrage." It's also noteworthy that the Facebook fan base doubled from 200 people to 410 after the 24-hour diner closed its doors.
"I honestly feel like someone in my life has died," wrote one downtrodden regular. "I love you, Finnegan's.