Riverside institution closes its doors

Riverside institution closes its doors
Ginette Ray, Richard Abboud, Jay C. Crawford, Helen Fretwell

The breakfast bunch. The round table. The tuna girls. Lawyers, doctors, politicians, retired folks, Riverside Presbyterian Day School parents and faculty, YMCA regulars, relatives, police officers. All who frequented Richard’s Sandwich Shoppe in 5 Points celebrated owner Richard Abboud’s retirement while lamenting the passing of an institution customers likened to “Cheers” – a place where everybody knows your name.

The popular sandwich shop closed its doors May 27, after 36 years of providing food, friendship and fellowship to the Riverside community.

In a neighborhood flush with restaurants, the conversation since Abboud announced his retirement has been, “Where are we going to eat?”

“Richard is an ambassador, the maître’d of the place many folks frequent twice a day,” said regular customer Dr. George Trotter. “Richard has survived all the changes in the economy and endured the diversity of the personalities of his clientele. He and the girls are always friendly and welcoming.”

Gunnar Miller, Joe Nassau and Murray Jenks are part of an informal breakfast club that has eaten at Richard’s twice a day since the 1980s. Miller and his wife, Betsy, presented Richard with a Toby character jug, which they felt resembled Richard. It is inscribed “Mein Host.”

“A good host gives sustenance and makes people welcome,” said Betsy Miller. “That is what Richard has done all these years.” 

Emotions ran high the last few weeks the restaurant was open, with laughter and tears from host and customers alike. Two of Abboud’s longtime staff are planning new careers.

Ginette Ray has worked with Richard for 36 years. “Ginette is the wheel that keeps this cart rolling,” said Abboud. “She has never had a bad day – she is always smiling. I have never seen a more conscientious person.”

Ray’s sister, Helen Fretwell, who has done different stints at Richard’s over the years, will be helping with the newly formed Ginette’s Cleaning Service. Jay C. Crawford, who had retired from Richard’s twice and had been called back, might actually get to quit this time.

The sandwich shop was truly a family affair, said Abboud. His daughters worked there in the summers. Ginette’s daughter, Michelle Leverett, worked there, also.  “This is my A team. Ginette, Michelle, Helen and Jay C.,” said Abboud. “Michelle was only three when Ginette started and she and my dad, Wilson Abboud, would be laughing and cutting up in the back when he and my wife, Grace, ran the shop until I retired from the city.

“I have never been without a job since I was 14 years old so there is a lot of anxiety in this decision. There are so many people we won’t see as often – these are not just customers – these are relationships – friends. It’s very sentimental. A bitter sweet time. This was not just a business – it’s been a gathering place,” he said.

The staff was feted with hugs, cake, presents and friends coming to say good-bye in a festive atmosphere. Caricatures of Richard in tap-dancing mode (yes, he was a hoofer in his youth), lots of photos, a poster for signatures and best wishes, and a rewrite of the lyrics to “Thanks for the Memory” adorned the walls.

Jim Overton joked that he has come to Richard’s since 1986 because “my reprobate friends come here.” Dan, Gary and Ed Akel, Larry Matthews and Tom Worthington have been eating there for about 20 years – almost every day.

A lot of joking, friendly name calling, and Gators vs. Seminoles jibes have abounded over the years. Akel takes credit for the neutral colored food trays. “The first time I ate here he had those orange and blue trays,” he joked. “I told him I couldn’t eat here unless there were some garnet and gold ones.”

TC Edwards (Mint Man), Billy Badger, Bobby Martin, Jay and Eddie Farhat agreed the friendship and camaraderie of Richard’s was the glue of the establishment.

Abboud’s daughters, Shannon Kuhnell and Jennifer Hanley, were on hand to share the memories. They said it was an emotional time for their father and when asked what they thought he would do in his retirement, they laughed. “Drive our mom crazy!”

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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