The phone at the Nisku Truck Stop south of Edmonton used to ring off the hook at this time of year with customers looking to secure their spots for Christmas dinner.
“Put me down on the list, Linda,” customers would tell the restaurant’s supervisor, Linda Dugdale.
Every Christmas Day for the past 20 years, hundreds of locals, truckers and people with nowhere else to go would line the walls of the restaurant waiting for fresh turkey topped with gravy and mashed potatoes.
After Dugdale would put in a six-hour shift serving customers, she would always meet her family for Christmas dinner at the truck stop off Highway 2.
“This was our Christmas dinner,” she told CBC News.
The Nisku Truck Stop is one of the few restaurants in the small hamlet that is open 365 days a year.
But this year, the truck stop is closing its doors for Christmas Day.
Last year alone, the restaurant served approximately 450 people, nearly half of Nisku’s total population.
“I don’t even know what to say, I have a hard time even thinking about that,” Dugdale said. “It just breaks my heart.”
Christmas cut because of ‘financial difficulties’
The restaurant echoed Dugdale’s heartbreak in a statement sent out to its customers. Management said the Christmas Day tradition is stopping “because of financial difficulties.”
Sales at the restaurant have been dropping since 2015, manager Leo Koo said. The rising costs of food and delivery, and a crash in the price of oil forced the restaurant to make some changes, he said.
The annual Christmas dinner was provided on a by-donation basis and cost the restaurant between $7,000 and $9,000 every year, Koo said.
In an effort to save the day, Dugdale approached her bosses to see if they would reconsider hosting the dinner, but she said she could not persuade them.
There are other options for Christmas dinner in Nisku, including Blackjacks Roadhouse & Games Room down the road, but it also fills to capacity every year, Dugdale said.
Even though the truck stop won’t be hosting Christmas dinner, Dugdale said the community is not giving up.
“We’ve had a bunch of women come up to us and say, ‘We’d cook for you,’ ” Dugdale said. “All we need is a little hall to host it.”
Dugdale said the truck stop will be making a decision in the next week to see if it can host the Christmas dinner elsewhere.