Rotary bids adieu to Yoken’s

By Nancy Cicco


PORTSMOUTH - With champagne and memories flowing, about 100 Rotarians feted the staff and management of Yoken’s restaurant and conference center on Thursday at the Rotary Club of Portsmouth’s final luncheon meeting at the restaurant.

After 57 years in business, Yoken’s, a longtime city landmark on Route 1, will close on Sunday. The Rotary Club has held more than 1,500 meetings at the establishment over the past 31 years.

"There’s a lot of emotion in this room, and I am trying to control mine. I have no idea what to say," said Yoken’s owner Kevin MacLeod as he addressed the club members, choking back tears.

"I look out and I see a lot of love in this room," said Harry MacLeod, Kevin’s brother. "I see a lot of dedicated souls who have done a lot for the city."

While Kevin MacLeod thanked the Rotarians for acknowledging his family’s community-service contributions, he said the Rotary Club is a greater example of that ethic.

"The things you do for this community, the hours you put in ... I think you should give yourselves a hand," he said.
Yoken's Restaurant owner Kevin McLeod holds up a special plaque made by sculptor and Rotarian Walter Liff during the last Rotary Club of Portsmouth meeting Thursday afternoon. The restaurant will close on Sunday after 31 years and about 1,500 Rotary meetings.
Photo by Rich Beauchesne

With 19 past presidents and current Rotary president Neal Ouellett standing behind banquet room’s head table, the Rotarians honored the Yoken’s staff members for their years of work attending to the Rotary’s weekly luncheons.

Mort Schmidt, a Rotary past president, honored eight Yoken’s employees by announcing each one as a Paul Harris Fellow. Named after the Rotary Club’s founder, the honor is given to individuals who contribute at least $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation - or in whose names others have donated at least that sum. Award winners also must demonstrate exemplary service to the community.

Receiving the awards were Yoken’s wait-staff members Phyllis Moore, Brenda Souza, Robynn Jewell, James Evangelou and Tara Townsend; head chef Rick Moulton; bartender Mark Duffy; and banquet manager Chris Skovron.

Duffy and Skovron could not attend the luncheon. Souza spoke before the crowd on behalf of her co-workers.

"I have many memories," she said. "Don Reeves always wants his meal rare - beef, chicken, fish, pork - rare. ... [Former Mayor] Eileen Foley is never switching to decaf."

When Souza started waitressing for the luncheon 20 years ago, she was paid "35 cents a head," she told the group. Now, she added, waitressing for the Rotary luncheons is the work assignment she will miss the most.

The Rotary Club also presented the restaurant employees with photographs of themselves and checks described as their holiday bonuses.

The event could not pass without honoring the Yoken’s whale sign, which has been the restaurant’s trademark since its inception. Rotarian Walter Liff, a sculptor, presented Kevin MacLeod with a plaque featuring a metal sculpture of a whale.

Then, as a disc jockey played the theme song of the Olympics, MacLeod handed off a Rotary International flag and plaque to Redhook Ale Brewery event coordinator Jessica Watts and retail manager Darren Hatt. Beginning next week, the Rotary will hold its luncheon meetings at the brewery’s restaurant at Pease International Tradeport.

"I’ll tell you, you guys have your work cut out for you," MacLeod said jokingly. "Don’t ever serve them chicken surprise or turkey croquet."

Then, turning serious, he said: "Carry it on with great glory," referring to the Rotary Club luncheon tradition.