The Riverview Inn will bring nearly seven decades of fried salt-and-pepper catfish, fantail shrimp and flounder, served on the banks of the Catawba River, to a close Dec. 22, Jon Burns said Tuesday.
Its sad but who else gets a 67-year run? asked Jon, son of founder Irwen Burns Sr.
The elder Burns opened the fish camp when he was 27, in a wood-framed building that seated about 60. By the mid-60s, with additions and a rebuilding after lightning struck, the place seated more than 660, serving up orders (and reorders, in the world of all-you-can-eat) of fried seafood to a clientele that held dear its bare-bones setting and low prices.
They also loved the Captain Windy Gilbert Winchester, who had a real wooden leg, wore a pirate costume to his Riverview gig, and (according to a 1967 Observer story) told children that a shark had bitten off what the wood replaced. (A motorcycle accident was the true culprit.) Winchester died in 2010.
Irwen Burns Jr., who took over from their father, retired three years ago, said Jon Burns, now 58. Im getting a little bit older now, and we dont have any family that wants to come in. Im not sure our (industry) is a great place to be in the future anyway.
Younger people now look to chains, or shiny things they see on TV or the small, funky neighborhood place.
He estimated hed gotten 50 phone calls by midday Tuesday after announcing the closing, with families and groups wanting to come in to say goodbye. Thats a very rewarding thing.
More than 100 commenters had posted on the restaurants Facebook page by early evening, many in all capitals: NO! NO! NO! and SO SORRY! and reciting fond memories of how the Riverview taught them what a fish camp was.
The genre is generally thought to have begun in the 30s in the South: places near water that fishers could fry up their catch, and eventually offer food to others. All-you-can-eat deals were standard, as were the cornmeal blobs known as hush puppies.
Jon Burns imagines a future in which independent restaurants will have a limited lifespan. Theyll open and do great for eight, nine, 10, 12 years but theyll run their course. He laughed at how many times in the last 67 years someone has come in to tell them about a new seafood place opening up. Theyd say, Youre gonna be goners now
Yet the Riverview endured.
Catering will continue to be offered, at least for a while.
The Riverview Inn is at 10012 Moores Chapel Loop, on the Catawba River, just off Wilkinson Boulevard.