By Mark Squibb/January 13, 2023
Darlene Jordan ended a journey this week that first began in 1983 when, while in her early 20s, she landed a part time job at the Holyrood Mary Brown’s.
Jordan flourished at the restaurant and moved into a management position. In 1990, she and her husband Jerald ‘Jerry’ Jordan entered a partnership with a franchise owner and began operating restaurants.
At one point the couple managed stores in Foxtrap, Paradise, and Holyrood.
“We would start off the morning in Paradise, and end up at Holyrood by the nighttime,” says Darlene. “We were busy people.”
The couple lived in Holyrood for over 40 years, and in 2005 purchased land and built a new restaurant for their Mary Brown’s franchise.
This week marked the couples’ last week at the restaurant as they head into retirement.
“It’s been bittersweet,” says Darlene, holding back tears. “But I’ve enjoyed my time. We put our heart and soul into this place over the years. But all good things have to come to an end.”
While Darlene has been the face of the operation in Holyrood, she says Jerry, her husband of over 40 years, doubled as her maintenance guy.
“He looked after my equipment breakdowns and my snow shovelling, stuff that I just didn’t like to do,” says Darlene. “And he’s been known to cut a couple of sacks of potatoes.”
The couple say sales have tripled in the Holyrood area over the years, and Darlene says the key is dedication to both their staff and customers.
“It’s a dedication to staff, we’ve employed a lot of wonderful people over the years, and of course to our customers,” says Darlene. “We have fantastic customers. They come in and give you a wave when they see you. We have our regulars come in, and we say, ‘Hi, how are ya today,’ and we’ll have a little chit chat back and forth. We wouldn’t be here without our customers.”
Jerry says besides folks living in the Holyrood area, the store is a haven for people driving up to CBC from St. Mary’s Bay and St. Vincent’s to buy their groceries and do their shopping.
“They stop in and have a feed around 11 o’clock, and then on their way back home they’ll stop in again to get food for the kids,” says Jerry. “So, we’ll see them twice in a day.”
The couple say the store often opens early, and over the years have even made cups of tea for early risers (which of course is not on the menu.)
True to their word, while the store doesn’t open until 11 o’clock, before this reporter left at 10:50 a.m. Monday morning, folks were already seated and having their feed of chicken for the day.
And while lots has changed at Mary Brown’s over the years, as the company has introduced new menu items, brought in new features such as online ordering, and occasionally redrawn the restaurant’s logo featuring the iconic Mary Brown (a real live person, by the way, who sold her chicken recipe to two St. John’s businessmen who opened the world’s first ever Mary Brown’s — originally dubbed The Golden Skillet — in St. John’s in 1969), Darlene says that one thing has not changed — quality.
“Mary Brown’s still has good product,” says Darlene. “We cut our own chicken in store, we cut our own taters in store. There’s nothing comes out of the freezer except a bag of french fries. So, it’s a fantastic product. And where can you go, really, and have 100 per cent meat, with no fillers whatsoever?”
And in case you’re wondering just how much chicken staff can sling in the run of a day, Darlene estimates the Holyrood store sells about 2,000 pieces of chicken a day.
“It’s a lot of cooking,” she joked.
But it’s not all sunshine and taters in the Mary Brown’s business — especially over the past couple of years, when the store has had to face COVID lockdowns and rising costs of everything from food to packaging.
“Everybody is in the same boat,” says Darlene.
Challenges aside, Darlene says the restaurant has fared well.
The business now runs in the family, with one daughter, Sherri Mercer, running a store in Kelligrews.
All of Darlene and Jerry’s kids have worked at Mary Brown’s at one point or another.
“Even my grandkids will come up with me on a Saturday morning and go to work with me,” says Darlene.
The Holyrood restaurant fell into the hands of MBI, the corporate owners of Mary Brown’s, Wednesday morning.
“I’d like to thank our customers for their support,” says Darlene. “We loved each and every one of them. And they’ll still get the same kind of service, because the staff here are really, really good. They take it to heart and try their best to please. And I’m sure they’ll do the same, no matter who they’re working for.”