Monday, August 18, 2014

Norton Will Miss Downtown Cafe

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, April 18, 2014

By Bill Gouveia

Down-town, things will be great when you're
Down-town, no finer place for sure
Down-town, everything's waiting for you

-       From the song “Downtown” sung by Petula Clark

In Norton, it is the end of yet another era.  Downtown Pizza, that seemingly indestructible Norton institution on Route 123, has closed its doors for good.  Here’s to you, old friend.  We had a lot of good times together.

If you aren’t familiar with Downtown, it is located right across the street from the entrance to Camp Finberg, nestled in next to the MGA Links golf course (the old Wading River Par 3 for you area townies like me).  It has stood there since at least the early 1970’s as one of Norton’s most well-know places to grab a bite and a beer – not necessarily in that order.

A beautiful piece of architecture it is not.  Although it was spruced up over the years by different owners, it was never going to look pretty.  The inside wasn’t a lot better, though low lighting helped.  But Downtown has always been a bit like the community surrounding it – you tended to like it not for how it looked, but rather for how it made you feel.

I first remember Downtown in the 70’s, when it was owned by a gentleman named Phil (my apologies for not remembering his last name).  It was pretty much a bar in those days, and that was how Phil ran it.  But aside from serving brews, Downtown knew how to make a pizza better than almost anyone.

Oh, those pizzas.  They were thin, they were hot, and they were greasy.  I’m talking about the running-down-your-arm-as-you-ate-it kind of greasy.  The kind that was no doubt bad for you, but a treat and a wonder for your taste buds. 

Eventually the establishment was sold to the McSweeney family, and they greatly improved both the business and the atmosphere.  It became a true family operation, with relatives everywhere you turned.  It was that version of Downtown that made the biggest impression on this lifelong Norton resident.

I spent countless hours enjoying myself in that small place where I had my own personalized mug hanging over the bar.  When I was a Norton selectman in the 1980’s, Downtown was our place to go after Thursday night meetings.  And believe me, after those meetings, you really needed a drink.

We would relax, joke, eat, drink, and just get to know each other better.  We had our own regular Thursday night table, and would often meet constituents we didn’t know.  I probably dropped more money into the Ms PacMan machine than I spent on my share of the bill each night, but that was okay.

When Downtown started delivery service, my house became a regular stop for decades.  My kids loved the pizza almost as much as my wife hated cooking.  When given an assignment in the first grade to record the recipe for his favorite thing Mom made for dinner, my youngest son wrote:  “Call Downtown.  Order the pizza.  When the man comes, pay him.  Eat the pizza.  Throw away the box.”

My joke with then-owner Roy McSweeney was that if I broke into one of his delivery trucks and hot-wired the ignition, it would automatically drive to my house.

Eventually Downtown was sold again, once more to a fine local family.  After many years of operation the DeVincent’s have decided to close the business.  I certainly don’t blame them, but it is a sad time for the town.

Downtown was never a fine dining place, and it was never quite Cheers either.  But it was a place you could bring your family for a relatively inexpensive dinner, then go back the next night with your buddies.  It was relaxed.  It was simple.  It was Norton.

There are still great places in town.  And Downtown had certainly seen better days.  But as those doors closed for the last time, they sealed in a lot of good times and warm memories.  I spent many hours there with great people who are no longer with us.   So many wonderful recollections of them were formed in that old building.

Thanks Downtown.  A large with extra cheese will never taste as good again.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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