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Dorchester prepares to say farewell to Ashmont Grill

restaurants

“We choose to control our own destiny and go out in style.”

Diners eat by the fire on the outside patio at Ashmont Grill in Dorchester. Josh Reynolds/The Boston Globe

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The Ashmont Grill, which has been an integral part of the Dorchester community for 18 years, will close its doors sometime in February, general manager Tara O’Riordan said. That ends the longest-running $1 Duxbury oyster night in the neighborhood, according to their website.

But O’Riordan said this is not the time for mourning.

“We don’t really consider it a funeral. It’s more like a celebration,” O’Riordan said. “Over the next few weeks, let’s celebrate everything we’ve done and what we meant to each other.”

Chef Chris Douglass, who founded Ashmont Grill, said he bought the space at 555 Talbot Ave because there was nothing else like it.

“I had young kids and I was meeting a lot of other young parents at that point and they all really wanted a restaurant and they asked me to think about opening one, so I did,” said Douglass, who also owns Tavolo, which is adjacent to the Ashmont grill is located .

He described Ashmont Grill as an “everyday eatery” that people go to on a weekly basis to meet up with friends.

“Something open and warm and welcoming,” Douglass said. “I think it was a real meeting point, a real opportunity for people to come together, for different members of the community, many different demographics, to all hang out in the same place and meet and mingle.”

Nearly two decades later, Douglass said he was ready to take a step back from work and look to retirement — though not in the immediate future. He said it had been open for so long and others were also showing interest in going ahead, so closing the shop made sense.

O’Riordan said of the decision, “We are choosing to control our own destiny and go out in style.”

Jenn Cartee, former General Manager of Greater Ashmont Main Streets, has worked with Ashmont Grill as well as been a patron for years.

She said the closure happened close to home because she can remember poring over real estate deals in the front booth of the restaurant as she prepared to move into the neighborhood. Since then, Cartee says, the Ashmont Grill has been a focal point for the family.

“We used to have parties there,” Cartee said. “We had birthdays. We’ve had difficult times over the years where we’ve also found solace there with friends and others we’ve come to know because of their connection to the grill, the neighborhood grill staff.”

O’Riordan said, as the famous Boston “Cheers” quote said, the staff are trying to really “make it a place where everyone knows your name.” Everyone who came to the Ashmont Grill should have an “outstanding experience,” she added.

When the restaurant started hosting a once-a-month wine club, it grew into a weekly event where “the same people came over and over again,” sparking a year-long tradition, O’Riordan said. When it started with a $1 oyster night, the same thing happened.

“It just is,” she said. “We’ve married people, families, people have children, some of the neighborhood kids have even grown up to work for us.”

But the restaurant offered more than just service to paying customers. Cartee said Ashmont Grill has frequently partnered with the community at events, and during the pandemic it has even stepped up to offer food aid and food distribution.

“We were always able to turn to them because not only were they willing to help, but they were willing to go deep into the work themselves to make it all work,” Cartee said.

It’s not yet clear who will take the place if Ashmont Grill leaves, but Douglass said they are looking at a proposal that will fill the void.

“We hope to find a restaurant operator who wants to implement a concept that fits into the community,” he said, adding that the ultimate decision will rest with the acquirers.

In the meantime, O’Riordan said, now is the time for all the regulars and everyone else to get together, have a meal, have a drink and “make some more memories.”

“We’re going to throw a few parties and we really just want to see everyone one more time or even three more, five more,” O’Riordan said. “Come in.”