EDITOR’S NOTE: In our special series Waking up Whalley’s Corner, we are sharing stories from the area around 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard. In the weeks ahead, we will delve into its struggles, its triumphs and what lies ahead.
SURREY — Stepping into the Round-Up Café is almost like walking back in time.
The eatery, just north of 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard, is about as close to a time warp as you can get in the Surrey of today, offering up an authentic 1940s diner feel.
Lime green bar stools with sparkly tops match the black, white, and green tiles on the wall. A lemon meringue pie and other goodies sit in a transparent display case just as you walk in the door.
Some historic photos of Whalley Little League line the walls, even though the owner will tell you there’s far fewer than there used to be. But it’s not just the dÃ©cor that is reminiscent of an American classic.
As one reviewer wrote on YellowPages, the food is “just like Grandma used to make.”
Until stumbling upon the diner, they said they couldn’t find anywhere in Surrey that served up “good old-fashioned homecooked greasy spoon diner fare.”
Goldie Springenatic began running the place with her husband Orest in 1959 and by then it had already been open for about 10 years.
“It looked pretty much the way it does today,” Goldie recalled with a chuckle.
The menu hasn’t changed much, either, she said affectionately.
“We just can’t seem to bust out of it, because this is what our clients want,” she said.
They’ve tried to introduce lasagna or pizza, but as Goldie put it, “it don’t sell.”
“They want the Salisbury and liver, chili and garlic toast, clubhouse and of course, we specialize in Ukrainian food.”
Before getting into the restaurant biz all those decades ago, Orest worked for CN Railway and Goldie in an employment office.
One day, the railway restaurant in Boston Bar posted a job looking for new management.
They took the leap into that for a few reasons, said Goldie, one of which was that they were tired of her husband’s job taking him out of town.
So there they were, embracing a completely new venture in life – running someone’s restaurant. And as Goldie puts in, “We done good for them.”
But after becoming frustrated with the owners about five years in, Goldie said she’d had enough.
“I said to my husband, ‘If you want to stay here, you stay. But that’s it for me.’ I picked up the paper and I saw this place advertised.
“We had no money,” she recalled. “I had a friend in Chilliwack, she was a dressmaker. I helped her with her shop when she was setting it up… She just gave us the money.”
So they picked up and moved to Surrey, beginning a new adventure in life in a new town. Their two boys were two and four at the time.
“It was busy,” she said of the diner when they first arrived. “It was very hard. Very hard…. We were open 24 hours at that time. We were 24 hours for years.”
She said the couple hardly left the building because it was so busy.
“I worked days, Orest worked nights. It wasn’t an easy road but it was good. We always enjoyed it.”
Back then, after the pubs would close, the after-the-bar crowds would flock to the 24-hour establishment.
“It would be absolutely jam packed in here. Of course we had some bad people come. My husband, he handled it pretty good.
“He kept a baseball bat behind the counter,” she continued, chuckling as she pointed over to the cash register.
About 20 years ago, the 24-hour service stopped and they now close at 5 p.m.
“We just got tired of it,” she explained. “Enough’s enough, we said. We were always busy on the night shift.”
But Goldie has many humorous stories of those night crowds. She couldn’t stop laughing as she told one tale.
As in any restaurant, they’ve had their fair share of customers run out on bills, she said.
“But this one night four girls had eaten and ran on their bill. My husband, he jumped in his car and of course he goes around the block and here they are down the road hitch hiking. He stopped and picked them up.
“They got driving a bit and one of the girls says, ‘That’s him! That’s him!’ He said, ‘Guess girls, where I’m taking you? I’m taking you to the cop station.’
“Oh, there’s been some good times,” she continued, smiling. “The good with the bad, and carry on.”
So is the Round-Up’s end near?
“Well I just have to make a phone call. They’re waiting for us,” she said with a chuckle.
But she doesn’t see herself selling the place anytime soon; it’s too close to her heart.
“No, not really. It’s here if I need to or want to,” Goldie said. “But I still come here most every day, and I love it. I just love it.”
NEXT IN SERIES: We focus on the challenges of the strip and what RCMP are doing about them.