In the Suburbs: Remembering the good times at Penny's

Penny's Diner has closed its Black Rock Turnpike location in Fairfield after 40 years.  

Penny's Diner has closed its Black Rock Turnpike location in Fairfield after 40 years.  

Randi Weiner / Hearst Connecticut Media

"To our valued customers, employees and friends,  It brings us great sadness that after 40 years of service, this location is permanently closed.We want to thank all of our loyal customers, and dedicated staff for all their support throughout the years. Our Norwalk location will remain open to serve you."

This was the sign on the shuttered front door at Pennyś II diner, which closed last week after 40 years.  

I was just coming from an appointment in Fairfield last Thursday and had to do a double take. Pennyś II, one of our favorite diners since we moved to Fairfield in the early 80s, was dark with the windows covered. I felt a real void as I processed this loss and my mind flooded with memories of all the great times and meals at that diner.  

When Pennyś opened in 1983, we lived just around the corner and loved going there for brunch on Sundays, bringing out-of-town family for a great breakfast or dinner and joining friends after the movies. I totally agreed with the Fairfield Patch reporter, who called Pennyś an institution for 40 years.    

On my short drive home, so many images came back to me. When 9/11 happened, my work circumstances changed and I became a sub in Fairfield schools after years of commuting to Manhattan. That generated my reconnection with Penny’s every morning. As an early riser, I was in that diner often before 6 a.m. to be sure I ate breakfast before facing the students.  

I always sat in the first booth just to the left and across from the entrance to the diner. The faded red seats were a bit torn from years of patrons sliding in or out. My favorite waiter Burt always greeted me with a big smile and a friendly question about how my family was doing. He knew exactly how I liked my coffee and brought me a piping-hot cup every morning. He knew my ordering routine blindfolded, especially my sliced bananas – loved that potassium.

Another patron, Mark, who became my dentist after years of our early morning Pennyś chats, always sat in the second booth behind the register on the left side of the diner. The sun was bright on most mornings or mornings were dingy and dark on rainy or snowy days. Mark regularly reminded Burt that the heat needed to be higher.  

Jan, another diner regular and friend, generally sat across from me in a second or third booth in front of the register. Jan was and still is an avid reader and she was never without a book when I was at Pennyś. We still see each other occasionally in the Fairfield University Book Store, my second job, whenever she takes time from her very busy schedule (I believe she is teaching yoga now).  

Brian, another regular and a genuinely great guy, was always at the counter to the right of the kitchen. He rarely missed an opportunity to stop by my booth for a quick chat and Burt always joined in. Brian was very soft spoken and was a terrific calming influence before I had to face another class of kids I didn´t know.    

In August 2004, on the occasion of my 60th birthday, I hosted a little celebration over breakfast (on me, of course) with my regulars and our close friend Joyce, who also lived nearby. It was a great get together, reminiscing and sharing stories about diner moments, waitresses or waiters who had come and gone, and I was glad to give Burt a big tip that day.  

I remembered how sad I was when we sold our Fairfield house in 2014 and moved to north Bridgeport where we rented for a few years before buying again. But whenever I had a hair appointment at what was then Hair Company on Black Rock Turnpike or Massage Envy, I always planned the appointment for at least 9:30 a.m. so I could have breakfast at Pennyś.  

And it was always great to be back. Sometimes Mark and his lovely wife Barbara were there in Mark’s usual booth and I saw Brian a few times as well. By that time, the owners had redone the booth seats and I noticed that the prices had inched up a bit. If I came in late enough, Burt was just arriving and greeted me with that great smile and my hot coffee. I learned that Burt had some health issues, but was bouncing back strongly.  

My foggy mind couldn’t remember all the names of the waitresses or waiters who had taken care of me throughout the years, but I remember vividly what some looked like. There was one waitress – Marjorie comes to mind – who was always as chipper as Burt and was right there some mornings with coffee and a great smile. I saw her occasionally at the original Penny’s in Norwalk when I met clients.  

For me, Penny’s closing was like the loss of a special friend. I’ll never forget the great times and great people and can only hope that the spot will be filled by another people friendly diner or restaurant.  

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at