'She'll always be there for me': Son remembers N.L. restaurant owner following sudden death

·3 min read
Gingergrass Thai and Vietnamese Restaurant/Facebook
Gingergrass Thai and Vietnamese Restaurant/Facebook

A St. John's restaurant owner is being remembered as a bright light in the community after she died suddenly on Friday.

Nira Nugroho, owner of Gingergrass Thai and Vietnamese Restaurant in St. John's, died in her sleep, according to her son, Derek. She was 61 years old.

"We are all shocked, but Gingergrass is moving forward," Derek Nugroho told The St. John's Morning Show on Thursday. "The outpouring of support from the customers has been overwhelming but positive. We're just glad that she had such a positive and wide influence on her community."

His mother grew up the youngest of seven siblings in the slums of Bangkok, Nugroho said, and she valued family more than anything. It's something he says he learned from her, and carries the thought everywhere he goes.

"She had a hard childhood … but she had a big, loving family," he said. "That definitely was something that she carried throughout her life. She never forgot where she came from. That's why she became, well, so beloved by all. She was just a kind and warm person."

Nugroho said her love of coming together and eating as a family served as an inspiration when she opened the first Gingergrass location in Halifax over 10 years ago.

"[Her family] were all extremely busy, being that they didn't have very much," he said. "Meal time in particular, dinner at the end of the day was community time, basically. She wanted to spread that joy with the world."

Nira moved to St. John's in recent years, and brought Gingergrass with her after the location in Halifax closed. The restaurant received rave reviews after opening on Duckworth Street last year, but Derek says the reviews are likely not what Nira will be remembered for the most.

Derek Nugroho
Derek Nugroho

"She personally knew a lot of customers. She knew their stories, she knew their favourite foods, their preferred spice levels," he said, laughing. "I'm glad the community support is there. We're really grateful for that."

Condolences have poured in from social media, remembering Nira as someone who truly cared for her customers and the community.

"My condolences to her friends and family. She was the sweetest lady and always came to chat with us on our regular visits to Gingergrass," one commenter on Facebook wrote.

"We met her on our first visit to the restaurant and was impressed with her kindness to her staff and customers and her positive energy and outlook," another post reads. "She spoke of her journey here and her son."

Derek said the restaurant plans to reopen soon with both new and returning faces. He said the kitchen will soon feature a new chef arriving in the province from Vietnam who Nira helped sponsor into the country.

"He wants to give [his children] a better life, which Nira intended to do, and did do," he said. "He's actually due to arrive next week."

He said the restaurant remaining open is a lasting sign of her impact on the community and the world, and hopes others can enjoy it the way she did.

"She's just always going to be there for me. And of course Gingergrass," he said. "Gingergrass represents her life's work, from her modest beginnings to where she is now. She'll always be there."

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