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Norwalk Neighbors Notes: Farewell to Sonny's

NORWALK, Conn. -- On West Avenue, diagonally across from the Norwalk Y, at a restaurant called Sonny’s, you’ll find a large extended “family” of diners. They’re devoted to Dawn Stampoulidis of Norwalk, and the delicious breakfasts she’s been serving them for decades. Looking around the room, Dawn says, “They’re all pretty much regulars. Before Sonny’s, I worked at Jimmy’s on Main Avenue for 22 years, and when it closed, they followed me here.” No wonder they followed her. She’s got a great personality and an uncanny ability to remember exactly what you order.

Rick Setti of Norwalk, challenges her with: “Dawn, what’s my usual?" Dawn recites it perfectly. Not only “the usual” he presently orders but “the usual” he used to order some time ago. Everyone smiles. She remembered it perfectly. Dawn adds, “I can remember food orders faster than names sometimes.” “To me,” she says, “you’re not Jeanne. You’re egg and feta cheese omelet with potatoes, no toast. And even if you beg me, you don’t want me to give you the toast.”

Richard Stumpf of Norwalk says, “This place has the best breakfast and is the best place for kidding around. We didn’t kid around like this at Jimmy’s. Just here. If you ever filmed it, you’d win the contest for best video.” Mary Ward walks in. With a big smile, Richard says, “Oh, here comes trouble.”

“They call me trouble. But I’m the good kind of trouble. This is my second family,” says Mary Ward of Norwalk. Her husband, Fred Ward , agrees, “I’ve been coming to Sonny’s since 1974, even before Dawn was here. I’ve known Dawn for more than 20 years. There isn’t any place like this anywhere. If you don’t see someone for a couple of days, you know something’s up.”

According to Rick Setti “You could write a whole book about this place. Everybody knows everybody.” Dawn says aside, “You know Rick Setti, he’s the one that puts up all the Christmas lights and the Santas on Midwood Road.” Sure, everybody knows that house.

When Lisa Holan of Norwalk walks in, Jeannette McBride-Russell shouts out, “Don’t you sit down, Lisa.” Lisa waves hello and table hops her way over to Jeannette and her husband, Edwin Russell of South Norwalk. Where will they all go when they close the place in October? Jeannette says, “We just might have to go to Dawn’s house. That may be the only place where we will ever get this great food and great service.”

When asked about the city-approved plans to demolish Sonny’s, Rick Setti groans, “Don’t go into it.” Richard Stumpf sums it up: “It’s wrong!” Later he adds, “We don’t know where we’ll go when Sonny’s gone. We’re such a big bunch.” Mary Ward agrees. “Everywhere else is just too expensive. You couldn’t do this every day anywhere else.”

Employee Donny Gains of Bridgeport says, “Yes. I’m upset just like everyone else. I’ve been working here for over four years. This is like my permanent, second home.” Lisa, who has been coming to Sonny’s since she was a little girl, comments that the new development could be exciting for Norwalk. “The plan for a mall with shops and restaurants will bring lots of new jobs. Maria, the owner of Sonny’s, has been offered a spot in the plan.” Rick throws out the inevitable question, “Yeah, but at what rent?” Richard, with a sense of resignation adds, “things change.”

Indeed they do. The group knows Sonny’s days are numbered. The breakfast bunch might never again have it so good. Rare is the place that offers great food, service, prices and personality. Make that personalities.

“On the last day, we’ll have to have a party,” Mary says.

“But we’re going to need a grill,” Dawn says.

“A grill? I’ll just go to Wal-Mart today and get one.”

“No, not that kind. We need a flat-top grill.”

Mary, turns to the table next to her, “You got a flat-top grill?”

"How about you, you got one?” One gets the feeling Mary is not going to give up. Maybe that’s how she got her nickname, Trouble. She doesn’t give up, and she’s right, that’s the good kind of trouble.

The restaurant and all its neighbors have their own kind of trouble and not the good kind. They must move out. The Seligson team of developers begins demolition in October. Hopefully, this breakfast bunch can find a suitable home. And as for Dawn, she plans to look for another job. “I’m looking for a comfortable spot, not a place that puts on airs.” Probably the kind of place, that doesn’t require a waitress to say, “Hello. My name is ... and I’ll be your server today.”

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