The Merritt Canteen was established in 1942. It started out as a little hut serving the best dogs, burgers and seafood around. In 1958 Lorraine Kohn, the original owner, decided to level the building and build a state of the art drive in restaurant. It had an ice cream parlor, overhead doors as entrances and an outdoor patio. It was the first of its kind in the area.
In the mid '60s, Lorraine met Jehu "Yawho" Rodriguez, Sr. who was working at Town & Country Diner (now known as the Galaxy) and invited him to come and work for her as a short order cook. Over the years his responsibilities turned into helping Lorraine manage the restaurant. As the North end area started to grow in the late 50 & 60’s so did the business and a number of other restaurants came to town.
The Canteen was one of the few places that served fast food to order while you watched it being prepared. This system is still in place today. Over the years Lorraine started handing over the responsibilities of running the restaurant over to Yawho and another employee (Ray) and started spending most of her time in Florida. In 1983 she sold the business to Yawho and Ray and they ran the business successfully. Lorraine passed away some time after. Over the years the Canteen stayed true to its roots becoming famous for serving great food at fair prices.
In 2001, Yawho decided to retire and his son Jehu, "Jay" Jr. came aboard. Jay, who was part owner of the Gathering Restaurant in Milford, sold his interest there and bought out Ray McPadden. These days you can find Yawho enjoying retirement at his home in Puerto Rico and when he is in town you can find him gardening at his home in Newtown or swimming at Lake Forest. Jay planned to make a number of changes which he did almost immediately knowing that the number one priority was to improve the appearance of the restaurant but keeping the concept and great food the same. He has remodeled the building inside and out but has kept the history alive. He is currently in the process of remodeling the kitchen and has added over 25 selections to the menu. The Canteen is busier than ever and this past year we celebrated our 63 year anniversary.
It is almost 2011 and Jay has run the business now for almost 10 years! Yawho is now living full time in Puerto Rico and is healthy and happy as ever. We continue to serve our customers “the old fashioned” way and it still works. We have made some new changes! We accept and welcome Sacred Heart University's SHU card for students. We are open LATE NIGHT till 1:00AM, 2:00AM on Thursdays, and 4:00AM on weekends. We teamed up with GoNation.com to present this new website and to promote us as the go-to place, after hours. We now have a Facebook page with over 10,000 members and you can soon follow us on Twitter. We plan to FINALLY start accepting credit cards soon!
We just completed our shooting for the production on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on Food Network! We would like to thank all the customers for their requests and emails suggesting that they feature us. We will be nationally recognized and acknowledged on television and it is quite and honor and feels good! Thank you again and we hope to make Bridgeport proud!