WOONSOCKET — The winter of 2011 claimed a city landmark Sunday as heavy snow and ice brought down the function room roof at Vermette’s Restaurant at 1347 Diamond Hill Road.
The collapse of the roof into a room once home to local wedding receptions, collations and holiday parties left one wall bulging outward into the business' parking lot at Diamond Hill Road and Mendon Road and another canted inward. The city's building inspector subsequently ordered the function room taken down as a precaution against further collapse.
The owner of the property, Joseph Gaspar, who operates the Bocce Club Restaurant at 226 St. Louis St., could not say Sunday evening what was to become of the original Vermette's building, a two-story structure with an apartment over the ground-floor dining space with a separate and undamaged roof.
“I will make that decision tomorrow,” Gaspar said when contacted while working at the Bocce Club. “I can't tell you now. Today is not a good day,” he said.
The damage to the function room was discovered Sunday and resulted in the area being cordoned off while it was investigated by firefighters and the building inspection division. The collapse came while the city continues to investigate the safety of roofs at local schools in light of the heavy loads of snow and ice building up this winter. School was canceled for Monday while work to remove snow from the schools continues. Several residential garages and a few commercial properties have also been damaged by accumulated snow and ice.
Denise Vermette of Blackstone, the granddaughter of Vermette's founders Alice and Alfred Vermette, went to see the demolished building Sunday with members of her family and had to hold back tears while talking about the days her family had operated the business. “It’s a very sad day,” Vermette said.
Vermette’s was originially founded by Alice and Alfred Vermette at the corner of Winter Street and North Main, now Christopher's Restaurant, back in 1938. After her husband passed away, Alice Vermette continued her restaurant's business at a new location on the corner that would eventually lead to the city's new business district of the 1960s.
Alice was known for the dynamite sandwiches, a mixture of meat, tomato sauce and peppers, that she would served to trucker and snowplow operators stopping in at the restaurant. She lived in the apartment upstairs and had her family working in the business that was also known for its family-style chicken and the crackers and cheese spread that Alice always served with her meals.
Denise said her late father, Alfred, had worked in the restaurant with her mother, Emma, and his brothers and sisters, Ralph, Walter, Raymond and Doris.
Alice's grandchildren also worked at Vermette's and Denise remembered working there with her sisters, Simone, Dianne, Jeannie, and brothers, Donald and Paul, who had learned to cook there and went on to earn a culinary degree.
Denise said she had called her mother, now 83, on Sunday while she and several of her sibilings watched B&M construction begin the razing work.
“She was upset and cried,” she said. Sunday. “I grew up in that restaurant,” Denise Vermette said. “We all did.”