Stepping away from the counter at Williamstown's Leo's Luncheonette after 42 years


WILLIAMSTOWN -- For 42 years, Donna LaBombard has been rising at 5:30 a.m. so she can spend time with friends and neighbors while making them breakfast or lunch.

Soon she won't have to get up quite so early because she's closing the restaurant and retiring.

She has been the sole operator of Leo's Luncheonette since she bought the restaurant from her father in 1981, and started working behind the counter when her father bought the business in 1972.

The clientele through all those years has primarily consisted of neighborhood folks, and their children, who liked the candy counter that used to be near the register. And when the Williamstown Youth Center was next door, plenty of those kids used to file in for a sugar fix.

"The whole neighborhood was full of kids," LaBombard recalls. "I had a lot of nice people coming in here."

Today, many of Leo's clientele have passed on or moved away.

"Lots of people come and go," she said. "Business is not like it used to be. I really miss all the kids."

Not everybody is gone -- there is still a loyal following of hearty neighborhood holdouts.

"I have lots of regulars, and they're not happy that I'm closing," LaBombard said.

Leo's menu, which hangs on the wall behind the counter, has remained largely unchanged -- aside from the prices -- for 42 years. And Leo's is still home to the Hoo-Ha Sandwich (ham, egg and cheese on a hard roll), a favorite the eatery was known for in years past.

Much of what makes Leo's what it is are the customers, LaBombard said.

When Sandy thundered through the region, her riverside Williamstown house was flooded.

"A bunch of my customers flocked to my house and started helping me clean up. They were over there every day," LaBombard said. "I've been real lucky to have such dedicated customers. They have been my family."

A while back, LaBombard was planning to remodel, but her clientele objected -- they liked the place just the way it is.

"One time I was going to remodel, but they said, ‘No. Don't do it.' So I didn't," she said.

Today, LaBombard said, business comes at a more leisurely pace, which she says is good: When it gets busy, she finds it harder for her to keep up than in the past.

"I can't do it, I just get tired," she said.

After Leo's closes, LaBombard is looking forward to seeing more of the nighttime she hasn't been able to stay awake for during the past four decades.

"I'm going to start being a night owl," she said with a chuckle. "Anything that's come on TV after 7:30 p.m. I've never seen it."

LaBombard has other plans, too.

"I am going to try to sleep in, and I'm going to start walking again," she said.

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