Chuck Febbraro, a longtime cook and manager at Ernie’s Coffee Shop, has traded in his white cook’s apron for a uniform.
Not long after he and wife Donna and parents Ernie and Judy Febbraro sold their landmark downtown eatery to new ownership in 2020, Febbraro retired from the restaurant business and joined Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25.
He can now be seen wearing a red Legion band uniform on special occasions or a blue Legion blazer for branch meetings.
“I had been in a couple of marching bands with the cadets when I was younger but the restaurant took precedence, but in the back of my mind I always wanted to get back into bands and the Legion band was the one I deeply wanted to go into because of my cadet background,” Febbraro told SooToday.
He played the bugle when he was younger and now plays one of the Legion band’s drums.
The band practices regularly and plays at the Sault’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony as well as smaller ceremonies commemorating Canada’s role at Vimy Ridge, Battle of the Atlantic, D-Day, the Korean War and the Battle of Britain.
This year, the band played in the 100th annual Rotary Community Day Parade.
Apart from playing in the band, Febbraro has also joined Branch 25’s executive and is involved in the annual Poppy Campaign, Legion fundraisers for organizations such as ARCH and carries a flag in the branch’s colour party.
Febbraro is passionate about helping modern day veterans and remembering those from the past.
“Our troops went abroad and actively defended our democracies. They came back and the Legion is one of the places where we as a group assist all veterans and their families in getting pensions, medical help or direction to the right government agencies, and we help them if we have homeless vets on the street.”
Of veterans from wars in Canada’s past, Febbraro said “these men and women put their lives on the line for what we take for granted today. We have rights. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have what we have today. We can enjoy going for coffee, go to a movie, go out and play ball. We don’t have bullets flying by us. We have the freedom to do pretty much anything we want to do but there’s a big price and a lot of people paid for their lives to give us what we have and we should never, ever forget.”
After Ernie Febbraro opened Ernie’s Coffee Shop on Queen St. E. with wife Judy in 1971, Chuck and wife Donna joined the popular restaurant’s crew in 1976.
He said he worked 16-hour days but enjoyed it.
“For over 40 years I got up in the morning real bright and early, before six, and I got home usually between eight-thirty or nine o'clock at night. On days off we were there cleaning. The hours that we were closed weren’t really days off. It was a lot of work people don’t see. You’re there pretty well 24 and 7.”
“It’s been different,” Febbraro said of his life after Ernie’s.
“I watched, between mom and dad and I, several generations come through our doors. People who moved out of town would come back for at least one meal while they were up. I’ve seen kids grow up and bring in their kids and we became part of their families. There were all the regulars who came in, day in and day out. You got to know them and they became part of you. I miss them and the staff I worked with. I had people working for me for 30 or 40 years and we became part of their families. Yeah, it leaves a big hole and you miss all these people. When we’re out we run into people and they say they miss us too.”
But Febbraro, now 64, keeps busy with wife Donna (his parents Ernie and Judy are now in their 80s) and apart from his duties with the Legion, is enjoying spending more time with his two daughters and five grandchildren, travelling and enjoying his new garden.
“I have to say life is good.”