AYER – It’s lunch time at Tiny’s restaurant and people are starting to roll in for a sit-down meal. One of them is enjoying his food the same way he has for the last two years, with focus and enjoyment. He only goes by Rich, a Leominster resident who, despite only going to Tiny’s for two years, has known about it all his life. Not only that, it may have helped save his life.
“I had cancer three years ago and they had to put a voice box in me,” Rich said. “When I was in treatment, I had problems with food and lost a lot of my taste. I came here for food one time and they had simple, basic meals that tasted like it did when my mom used to make it for me when I was a kid. In a way, it actually helped my treatment.”
Rich’s story is one of many to have passed through the staple of the Nashoba Valley that’s been around for over 60 years. It’s also been a family affair, currently owned by Bill Mauro after his father Fred, mother Anna and uncle Phil Katralis started the business back in 1958.
“Before Tiny’s, they ran a restaurant near the local bus depot,” Bill said. “Then they bought this property and started things out as a donut shop.”
The restaurant has always been a family business, with Bill first starting to work there after graduating college in 1972. Nowadays, Bill’s three children work in the restaurant themselves.
“It makes us feel great that so many people have such fond memories of this place,” Greg Mauro, Bill’s son, said. “The community supports us and we’re really grateful. It’s good to know that we mean so much to them.”
From the time he started to present day, Bill has seen changes in the restaurants service. From the donut shop to lunch service to all-you-can-eat to fresh seafood, Tiny’s has offered numerous amenities over the years. However, the longest-tenured service is a connection with the customers.
“I still talk to customers in the morning and during my night shift,” Bill said. “We do a lot of family business here, people talk about everything from politics to sports.”
That connection was severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the restaurant to close down for in-person business for three months. After doing only take-out orders in those first three months, Bill said the restaurant reopened for seating at 50 percent capacity and currently has 22 employees back inside. As of March 1, restaurants in Massachusetts no longer have a capacity limit, but social distancing is still required with a six-person per table and 90-minute time limits in effect
“It was very difficult to adjust at first,” Bill added. “Our takeout orders were at a volume we had never seen before. It was certainly a unique operation and there are so many people to thank for supporting us.”
Still, many of Tiny’s customers expressed gratitude that the restaurant has its doors open in any capacity. Sandi Regan, a teacher at Middlesex Community College, saluted the staff at Tiny’s for remembering her and her friends whenever they visit for a meal.
“There are people all over the state who know Tiny’s and have stopped in,” Regan said. “People bring up Tiny’s as a place of stability for the town. The staff work so hard and they’re family-oriented. Every time I’ve gone there with friends and family, they’re wowed. They make you feel like you belong.”
Debbie Frederick, a resident of Shirley, described Tiny’s as “iconic.”
“You don’t see many restaurants looking like this anymore,” Frederick said. “It always has a good atmosphere, like you went back in time and were sitting down for a good meal.”
“There are always great stories that come from the customers, it makes my staff feel great,” Bill said.