ARNPRIOR -- Lost among the Stage 3 reopening of indoor dining at bars and restaurants, gyms, and movie theatres are the smaller businesses in eastern Ontario that have been just as sorely missed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Falling in that category is the Antrim Truck Stop in Arnprior. While most of Antrim’s amenities such as the gas bar, washrooms, showers, and take out bakery have remained open, the truck stop’s restaurant finally reopened to indoor dining Friday.

"We used to have about 165 seats available in the restaurant," says General Manager Tom Orr. "Now we have room for about 105 with a real good distance. We’re really happy; we’ve got everybody distanced out over the two metres."

Despite being a truck stop by design, Antrim has grown a large following throughout the Ottawa valley, with truck drivers, cottage goers, and locals all stopping to eat at the restaurant.

"Why here? This is a great place. We love this restaurant. The food’s great, the service is great," says Roxanne Taillefer, a local stopping in for lunch.

"Oh it’s great food here at Antrim," raves Eric Little, a truck driver who makes regular fuel deliveries to Antrim.

"I’ll stop and grab a sandwich. I don’t usually stop and eat a meal but I have eaten here in the past. Actually they have supported us quite a bit here. Once when the highway was shut down, they gave a free coffee and everything one winter. So Antrim has been great.”

Another factor that has made Antrim so popular in the truck driving community is its washrooms and showers. At most stops along the highway before Friday’s Stage 3 reopening, amenities such as those were tough to come by for truck drivers, but Antrim made them a priority.

“It was irrelevant whether we were making money or not. We had to keep the fuel bar open...and most importantly the cleanest washrooms in Canada,” says Orr.

Jason Thebeau drives a truck out of Pembroke and stops numerous times at Antrim. “It’s been very difficult to find places that have a shower. If there is showers available, wait times are double because they have to make sure everything is cleaned properly.”

“Antrim has been great here. A lot of the sites that we do, the stations we deliver to, actually a lot of them had closed their bathrooms,” says Little.

The reopening also means a return to work for a high number of workers not only at Antrim, but across the Ottawa Valley.

“We were down about 65 per cent for the last 18 weeks, so this is a big help,” says Orr, referencing the lack of business his truck stop was receiving. “And we had 30 people laid off, some of our team that had been with us over 20 years and we had to lay them off. We only had half staff for 18 weeks, so it’s great to get our staff back and get back at it.”