Longtime truck stop eatery survives pandemic only to be shut down by new owners

New owners McDougall Energy plan to replace Flying M restaurant with convenience store

The Flying M Restaurant on Highway 4 between London, Ont., and St. Thomas, which has served truckers since the late 1970s, and during the pandemic remained afloat by offering takeout to customers, was given notice seven weeks ago to move out of the building.

“We pulled through. We didn’t do well, but we maintained,” said Denise McKinlay, who has worked at the restaurant since 1995 and has owned the business since 2005. “Now we’re thriving again and this is happening.”

The restaurant will serve its last cup of coffee on Sunday.

“It’s a little surreal,” McKinlay said. “We’re extremely busy, so that’s keeping our minds off of it. We’re just kind of walking around like zombies trying to get through.”

McDougall Energy purchased the property in 2017 and has plans to turn the restaurant into a convenience store, said McKinlay.  

The Flying M Restaurant has been operating since the mid-1970s. (Submitted by Denise McKinlay)

“We knew eventually that they were going to renovate here. We just assumed that the restaurant would stay and they just gave us a facelift.”

Crews have already been working on site, revamping the outside pump area.

“It’s truly a family here,” McKinlay said of the 11 people who work at the restaurant, many of whom have been there for more than 10 years. “Some are crying already today. It’s just very emotional.”

McKinlay is also worried about the customers she’s leaving behind. “We have fresh, homemade food every day. They don’t want to stop at a Subway.”

“I’ve had so many messages on our Facebook page and cards have been sent and best wishes,” she said. “They’re taking it hard because they have nowhere to go.”

“We feel good knowing that we didn’t leave the restaurant,” said McKinlay. “We made it through the pandemic. We made it through the hard times. It’s being taken away from us.”

CBC News reached out to McDougall Energy but the company has so far not provided a statement.