Family-Run Business

Serving New Brunswick Travellers Since 1958

History of Murray's

This article was published in the “Highway Star” September 2000.

By Jim Park

 

Good Soup, Good Service

The recipe for truckstop success isn’t hard to find. Just look at Murray’s Esso in NB.

If our lead photograph looks familiar to highway star readers, it might be that you have seen it before or at least part of it. Our inaugural issue, exactly a year ago, featured a photo in the ‘Can’t get there from here’ contest of the highway that passes directly in front of Murray’s Esso in Meductic, NB. In fact, the truck stop wasn’t even in the photo, but more than 100 of you eagle eyed drivers identified the location as ‘…..Just in front of Murray’s Esso.’

We became curious about how a small, roadside service station could generate that much enthusiasm. So we went down there to see what all the fuss was about. And it didn’t take long to figure out what the locals have known for years.

The Grant family has been serving travellers in Northern NB since 1958, and by all accounts they’ve done a fine job of it. Murray Grant opened the place with a couple of gasoline pumps and a service bay. Retired now, he later added a second bay, and then the restaurant, but it’s remained pretty much the same for all these years. Larry Grant, Murray’s oldest son couldn’t remember when the diesel pumps went in, but recalls that gas was selling for $.48 a gallon when he started working the business.

Murray’s Esso- it’s been an Esso outlet since day one, incidentally-really turned into a truckstop about 30 years ago. Back then there were even fewer truckstops in Atlantic Canada then there are today. When the nearby Irving outlet at Bull’s Creek burned to the ground in the early 1970’s, drivers plying the Trans Canada Highway managed to convince Murray to keep his place open around the clock.

“That gave us our in to the truckstop business, but it posed a few problems of it’s own,” says Calvin Grant, the business’ general manager. “At the time, the highway was situated where the gas pumps are today, so we really had no parking lot to speak of. When the government realigned the road it gave us a ton of additional parking.”

For years, Murray’s was the only business in the area that resembled a truckstop. It’s not uncommon still for drivers to receive recommendations from local competitors who don’t offer the range of services that the Grants do. “ Many of the other places around here don’t even have air for tires,” says Calvin.

“But we’ve got a small full service facility, and we can occasionally help out with some minor repairs and patch ups to keep up guys moving until they can get to a full service facility.”

While it’s not the kind of thing they like to brag about, he described a few occasions when they went out of their way to help drivers who had run out of fuel or had minor breakdowns nearby. They might run a few miles down the road on a ‘service call’ in or boost a truck on a cold winter morning, never charging a dime. That’s the essence of Murray’s Esso, and clearly why so many of you recognized the place in the photo.

One of the first questions we asked Larry was why was the place so popular. He thought about it briefly, then responded, “ good soup, good service.” So much for all the marketing gurus and their carefully measured distance between the snack counter and the cash register or the colour coded décor contrived to incite waves of nostalgia as found in some modern installations. It really boils down to keeping the customers happy.

Family Connection

Larry and Dave Grant, left and second from right,  are Murray's sons and partners in business. Dave's daughter Jamie, pumps gas and works in the tire shop. Larry's son Calvin, right, is general manager.

The restaurant is something of an institution in Meductic. Many of the locals experienced their first taste of summer employment at Murray’s. The two youngest Grants, Calvin and his cousin Jamie, both recall being fairly popular at school because of the reputation of the family business. Jamie says there are even several references in her high school yearbook to after-school meetings at the restaurant. “It’s kind of cool to look back on how many of our friends have worked here and how we’ve been able to put something back into the community,” Jamie said. “ A lot of my friends’ parents put themselves through school by working here during their summer breaks.”

The world-renowned cymbal maker, Sabian Cymbals, is located a short drive from Murray’s, and Calvin says the restaurant frequently hosts some pretty famous percussionists for lunch while they’re visiting the plant. “We don’t know who they are exactly because the drummers don’t get top billing,” says Calvin. “ But we were once introduced to Garth Brooks parents.”

The restaurant is run by Larry’s wife, Doreen, who insists that all the food be prepared just as it would be at home. “ That means pealing the potatoes, carving the turkey for Sunday dinner and slicing the apples for the apple crumble,” Jamie emphasized. And then there’s the homemade soup. As Larry was so quick to point out, it’s one of the staples on the menu. No less care and attention goes into a pot of the stuff just because they serve gallons of it every day.

For Jamie, now 17, growing up around the truck stop was a great opportunity to meet lots of interesting people. “ It was really like having a whole bunch of dads,” she says. “ The drivers all knew me from the time I was small. They always told me jokes and stories and they were really respectful.”

She fondly recalls one particular driver; a fellow named Randy who works for Keltic Transportation. “Randy taught our dog, Kelsey, a bunch of tricks, and when Kelsey would spot Randy’s truck in the parking lot, he’d sleep under the door until Randy woke up and came inside.”

Aside from Larry and Doreen and their son Calvin, Larry’s brother, David, is a partner who plays an active role in the business. His daughter, Jamie and his sister Donna round of the roster of family members who work there on a regular basis.

Then and Now

There was once a 12-unit motel on the site, but the bank of the St. John River was slowly advancing on the modest rest stop, putting it at risk of being washed away. The power utility that dammed the river had offered to pay to have it torn down when a near by Bible camp heard about the structure’s plight. They figured if the utility was paying, they could have it cut in half and hauled to where they needed the accommodations, for less then the cost of a new building. It was literally sawed in half and trucked away.

The motel's most famous client was Terry Fox. He spent a night at Murray’s while making his legendary attempt to run across Canada prior to being forced to cut his run short in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Murray Grant still lives in the house adjacent to the business. Like many patriarchs of a family enterprise, he still chips in occasionally, but when the weather is nice, he’s a little difficult to find.

Sadly, the Grants know only too well that the days of Murray’s Esso are numbered as the four-laning of the Trans’ Canada between Fredericton and Edmundston diverts traffic away from the old road, without an exit nearby. “ The new highway is definitely going to hurt the business,” says Calvin. “Folks on the highway just won’t turn all the way back here from the Beardsley Rd Exit. I think we’ll maintain a lot of our local business, but we’re already making plans for a new place up at Beardsley Road.”

So while the sun still shines on this remarkable little roadside oasis, stop by and treat yourself to a taste of some real Maritime hospitality. They say the truckers know all the good places to eat, and that must be true because it’s now uncommon to see trucks owned by one of the Grant’s major competitors parked out on the lot. We’ll never see $.48 gasoline again, and there’ll never be another spot quite like Murray’s Esso. So thanks for 42 years of good service, and on behalf of truckers everywhere who appreciate a solid meal and a real effort to be of service, we wish the Grant’s the best of luck with their new location.