By Angelique Roy
AYER -- It's name might be small, but Tiny's Restaurant has had a large presence in its community since it opened 30 years ago.
Tiny's was first opened as a doughnut shop -- The Donut Tree -- by Bill Mauro's parents in the late 1950s. He was working as an area manager for a vending company at the time, but steered his career down a different path when he began helping his parents at the eatery in 1972.
"Thirty years later, I'm still here," Mauro said.
Mauro made the restaurant what it is today by adding a dining room to the space, putting together a dinner menu and securing a liquor license. He modeled the restaurant after the then success of local Howard Johnsons, and named it Tiny's after the nickname of his petite mother, who stood at 4-foot 7-inches and weighed only 85 pounds.
"Everyone knew her as Tiny," he noted.
"We are a very successful restaurant," he said. "People would miss us if we were not here."
His customers would have also likely missed the staff at the restaurant, as some have been working there for more than two decades.
"Every time people come in it's the same waitstaff, bartenders, and cooks -- nothing changes," Mauro said. "If you keep your employees happy, you will keep your customers happy. It's as simple as that."
Since the beginning, Mauro's vision for Tiny's was to offer good food at a reasonable price -- a business plan that has proven to be successful as the restaurant operates mainly on repeat business. Every Sunday morning there is a line of customers waiting outside before the restaurant opens its doors at 8:30, and some customers dine there twice a day.
"Have you gone to the grocery story lately?" Mauro asked. "It's cheaper to eat here with my prices."
Seafood reigns as the restaurant's specialty on its lunch and dinner menus. Tiny's uses 300 pounds of haddock, and four gallons of scallops and whole belly clams, each week. Lobsters and steamers are in demand from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, when the lobster tank is removed to make room for the restaurant's Christmas tree, but the eatery keeps its lobster roll (filled with nearly seven ounces of lobster meat) on the menu year-round so its customers can get their fix.
The breakfast menu at Tiny's doesn't veer much from the norm of eggs (the restaurant uses more than 1,400 eggs a week), meat and toast, but the size of its three-egg specialty omelets is eye-catching. A handful of omelets also made an appearance on the restaurant's dinner menu, as does one of the newest additions to the early morning menu -- the Cheeseburger and Egg, served on a bulkie roll. Another recent addition to Tiny's breakfast is "The Healthy Side," a section of the menu dedicated to healthier morning fare including yogurt and granola, and whole wheat pancakes.
Biscuits and Gravy (3-inch wide biscuits topped with white gravy, and topped with eggs by request) is another Tiny's breakfast favorite.
"I eat it all the time, as you can tell," Mauro joked as he put a hand to his stomach.
Mauro's three adult children are slated take over the iconic town eatery. "I have all of the confidence in the world that they can do it," Mauro said. "They've been washing dishes here since they were 7 years old."
2 Groton School Road, Ayer, 978-772-2917, tinysrestaurantayer.com
- Hours: Sun., 8:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Mon.-Tues., 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Wed.-Fri., 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat., 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Breakfast is served daily until 11 a.m.
- Parking: Very limited. The restaurant has about 35 spots on its property. Guests may also park in a field across the street.
- Reservations: Not accepted
- Menu: Breakfast favorites, hearty lunches and classic dinners.
- Price range: The cost of breakfast ranges from $3.25-10.95, lunch and dinner from $6.95-10.95. Many seafood dishes are offered at market price.
- Atmosphere: Casual and friendly
- Try this: Steak Tip Omelet (filled with steak tips, peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese), Hot Turkey Sandwich (topped with gravy and stuffing), Fisherman's Platter, Lobster Roll
- Desserts: The menu is lined with a handful of old-time favorites -- Tapioca Pudding, Grapenut Custard, Lemon Meringue Pie.
- Specials: Tiny's offers an All You Can Eat special four days a week, until 8:30 p.m. Stop in for Roast Pork on Monday, Spaghetti and Meatballs on Tuesday, Fried Haddock on Wednesday, and Clam Strips on Friday. Queen cut Prime Rib is on special Wednesday nights for $11.95.