By Nicola Ryan
In 1944, when Harold and Margaret Tucker borrowed $2,000 from the NL Savings Company to purchase a piece of property in Topsail, they had big ideas. A little confectionary stood on the site, but Harold remodelled it into a successful family-run restaurant. The Dew Drop Inn served up the best fries in Topsail for more than 30 years in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and was a popular hub in the pretty Conception Bay South town.
“My mother, she was a Barnes, she grew up in Topsail. My dad is a Tucker from Port de Grave,” recalls their son Wayne Tucker, who grew up along with his three siblings - Jean, Harold and David - in the family home adjacent to the restaurant.
“Growing up through the years we were all involved, we all had to help out. That’s how we got our pocket money,” recalls Wayne. “‘Peel potatoes!’ That was sung out to me so often - they could open the door in the restaurant kitchen and call out into our house where we were probably watching television. I make a joke of it today and say I actually thought my name was ‘Peel Potatoes’!”
Kelvin Fowler, a longtime resident of Topsail, remembers the restaurant’s early days in bright detail. “I graduated from Queen Elizabeth regional high school about that time,” he says. “I graduated in June of ’57 and then went on to Memorial in September, and during that summer, Dew Drop Inn was a popular place.” The jukebox near the door was stocked with rock n’ roll records - “Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Don’t Be Cruel, Love Me Tender and these songs were being played on the jukebox in the summer of ‘57,” Kelvin recalls. “It seemed to me that every week there were new 45s on the jukebox by Elvis!
“Of course, the restaurant was really good, too,” he continues. “In particular, what I remember that we liked was the hamburger platter. Now, I think it was referred to as the Hamburger Special, and we would order it with what we called ‘the works.’ It meant catsup, mustard, relish and onions. Then you had a mound of french fries and, of course, it had to be completed with gravy. That was the big thing.” It still holds a special place in the hearts and minds of those who grew up between Topsail Hill and Manuels Bridge.
Gennie Tucker was 16 years old in 1963, when she started working part-time as a waitress at the Dew Drop Inn. “I was ‘chief cook and bottlewasher,’ I called it,” she laughs. “It wasn’t just one specific thing we did: we all chipped in and did it all. But we used to have so much fun. We had lots of fun there.”
A typical day at the Dew Drop Inn would follow a familiar rhythm. “We’d get ready in the mornings, get everything cleaned and make sure the cooler was filled up with the bottles of Coke. Mrs. Tucker would be in the kitchen making the batters and pre-cooking chicken. We’d get it all prepared, and then we’d sit and have a little snack ourselves before the rush started, and then look out 12:00! And we were busy right up until 2:00.
“Everything was done from scratch,” she continues. “The roast beef was cooked in the oven, and the stock from that is what we made our gravy with. There was no canned gravy used ever. It was all homemade. Homemade pea soup, turkey soup. And all the fries - I mean, there’d be great big buckets of potatoes!”
The booths and tables and counter stools would fill up with salesmen, delivery drivers and utility workers from Avalon Telephone, Newfoundland Light and Power, and Newfoundland Tractor and Equipment during the lunch rush.
“We had a lot of great customers, regular customers. We would joke with them because we knew them all so well ’cause they were there every day. We were so busy, but we loved it there. In the afternoon, by the time we got everything cleaned up and organized again, we’d be ready for the supper rush.”
Margaret Tucker’s niece, Joan Szangulies, remembers helping out at busy times. “My job was: keep the chips comin’!” she recalls with a laugh. “Dad would say, ‘Now, Aunt Margaret would like you to come out and cut up chips today.’ And I’d go out and one of her sons would be down in the basement with the automatic peeler. They’d send down a 10 gallon bucket of potatoes and I’d peel away at them - and then they’d send down another one!”
Wayne remembers days in the 1960s when lineups would form outside the door. “It attracted a lot of people in summer who went to Topsail Beach,” he says.
“When I was small I used to enjoy - all the young people would come down on motorcycles and in convertibles, stuff like that, and they’d be down to, say, the beaches, and then they’d come up for ice cream or chips - I used to enjoy going outside and just looking at the vehicles and the motorcycles. You’re bringing back memories!”
As a teenager in the 1970s, Beverley Leloche Skanes lived not too far away, on Spruce Hill Road, and spent many hours at the restaurant.
“In Topsail, when we hung out, we walked,” she recounts. “We just got together, all the friends got together, and we walked up and down the lanes. In the wintertime it was bitter cold, so we would go into Dew Drop Inn - we called it Tucker’s, actually - and we’d go in there and sit down. I mean, you were getting probably 50 cents for allowance, and there was always at least five or six of us, each two sharing a plate of fries just to get in out of the cold. And the fries were fantastic. And God love ’em,” she laughs, “they never said anything to us. They were always good to us.”
Beverley recalls summertimes spent at Topsail Beach with cars lined up and down the dirt road, the cool kids hanging out, leaning on their Trans Ams and Camaros. On Friday or Saturday night, they’d all end up at the Dew Drop Inn.
“All the kids my age, back then there was quite a few of us, and that’s where a lot of us hung out. We did a lot of walking, and we were always so happy to get in there - I swear I can still smell those fries. They had the best fries.”
The Dew Drop Inn eventually closed for good in 1979, with Harold and Margaret enjoying their hard-earned retirement.
“They were ready for retirement,” Wayne says of his parents. “They worked hard. It was pretty well seven days a week from noon till midnight, especially on weekends. There was no succession in the family for any of us. Dad would never allow any of us to get into the business because the hours were so long.”
“They sold and they retired and they moved just across the street almost, up Spruce Hill Road,” concludes Gennie. “And a lot of people that I’ve met over the years have commented on how they loved the Dew Drop Inn and they missed it when it closed down.”