Saying goodbye to a Fox Family tradition

HALLS – Another area family-owned restaurant succumbed to the pressures of the market this past week.

Patrons and long-time employees of Fox’s Family Restaurant on Lycoming Mall Drive hugged and laughed and cried and told each other they’d become friends on Facebook on Saturday evening, as the last meals were served at a restaurant that began in the early 1950s as a grocery store and ice cream shop on the corner of Jordan Avenue and Montour Street in Montoursville.

“You don’t know where we’re going to pop up,” waitress Kenna Snyder told a longtime customer as she was leaving. “You’ll find us working in a restaurant – you’ll see us around.”

“I’m really upset about this,” said Betty Jo Soohy, of Hughesville. “They’re family. I’ve been going to a Fox’s since I was 16. It’s just like home cooking, and I got to know all the waitresses’ life stories. Every time I think about it. I cry. I never thought there’d be a time when I was going to be alive when there wouldn’t be a Fox’s.”

Long-time regulars don’t know where they’ll eat out now.

“I knew the Foxes since I was a little kid; I was 10 or 11. I went to Canada with Jack and Mary (Fox),” said Bill Boyles, of Pennsdale. “We’ve gone here every week – we like to support the hometown people versus the chains.”

“I’ll miss the jokes,” his wife, Christine, said. “You got to be in on the in-crowd here.”

“These people are like family. They sent flowers to my aunt when she was in the hospital last December,” said Linda Kibbe, of Williamsport. “When my mother was living, we’d come two or three times a week. The chains are nice for a change now and then, but it’s so unfortunate to see family businesses struggle.”

Fox’s baked goods and bread were highly regarded in the area – on Saturday some half-price loaves of their Italian, raisin and English muffin breads were all that was left, with only crumbs remaining on trays where their last batches of delicacies were displayed – and their homestyle menu bore headings such as Serious Salads, Gram’s Cupboard and I Want a Burger.

Tim Fox, who co-owned the restaurant with his brother Dennis and sister Susie, said that competitive pressure from chain restaurants was one of the reasons they decided to close.

“When Mr. Gleason, who owned the property we have now, decided to sell off some of his farm, the agreement was there would never be an off-ramp to the mall other than this one.”

The last Fox’s opened on June 23, 1976, after time spent in the current Johnson’s Cafe, and a location in Muncy opened in 1972 that flooded three times in four years.

“Gleason came over to the restaurant one day, and we were mudding out,” Fox said. “Mom asked, ‘Mr. Gleason, do you have some land for sale?’ He said yes, and Mom put down her shovel and told Dad, ‘We’re moving.’

“Our employees, other than a few hostesses and dishwashers, were the same employees for 30-plus years,” Fox continued. “I grew up around these people and now I’m their boss. It’s bittersweet … though Dad built the building himself, it’s just a building – the memories we take forever.”

Holly Baker waited tables at Fox’s for 30 years.

“I’ve been with the family now through thick and thin – the people are so wonderful? Mrs. Fox, when she was alive, everyone got the gospel preached to them. To have to leave and walk out is so hard. I’ll spend a lot of time with my grandchildren this summer and, hopefully by fall, find myself another job.”

For the last 23 years, Glen Zarr bussed tables at Fox’s.

“The girls in the bakery made me everything,” he said. “I’ve got to cook (for) myself now. I’ll have to buy myself some frying pans.”