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Patrons share memories as St. Albans Shoney’s closes its doors

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Dick and Betty Baier will have to go elsewhere for their Sunday afternoon repast now that the St. Albans Shoneys, a restaurant they've frequented for more than 50 years, has closed its doors for the last time.

A typed sign reading simply "Sorry we are closed," was taped to the door at the restaurant, located on U.S. 60 near the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge. The sign went up at 3 p.m. Sunday as employees, some of whom spent the morning saying goodbye to longtime customers, were now saying goodbye to each other with tear-filled eyes.

At the Baiers' table, Betty, 82, had just finished her pancakes when a waitress, one of the restaurant's 30 or so employees, approached them to tell them how much she'd enjoyed serving them over the years. They thanked her and after she'd gone wondered aloud where she would go.  

"The waitresses - they feel and we feel like we're breaking up the family," said Dick, 83.

The two drive to the restaurant every Sunday from St. Andrew's United Methodist Church. They head home afterward, usually to nap, they said.

They eat elsewhere on occasion, but Shoney's is a favorite. They often stop in for a bite before or after doctor's appointments. He said the wait staff, many of whom knew them by name, would often ask them when they came in where they were coming from or where they were going.

"When we first moved to St. Albans in 1958, the Shoney's was there by the road," Dick said.

"They moved it further back since then, but as long as there's been a Shoney's we've been eating here."

There was no big announcement and no fanfare. Many of the Shoney's restaurants in the Kanawha Valley have closed over the years. The Kanawha City store closed a few months ago.

The manager at the St. Albans restaurant referred questions to the restaurant's headquarters at the Kanawha Boulevard restaurant. Calls to the restaurant were not returned.

Faithful customers poured in all weekend. The Baiers heard the news Thursday from a neighbor and found themselves having dinner there Friday night.

Dick said he had to have one more Ultimate Grilled Cheese, a sandwich made up of three types of cheese, tomato and bacon grilled on sourdough bread. He described the sandwich as something his doctor would frown upon if he indulged in it on a regular basis.

"We were here last night and there was a man, about 30 years old, here with his family," Dick said. "That young man stood up and said 'My mother worked here when Shoney's was over there.' " He gestured across the parking lot to the location of the former store.

"There was a certain pride or proudness associated with that."

A source of pride for the restaurant was the Red Dragon Room in the back. The walls of the room, painted a vibrant red, held pictures of the St. Albans High School Class of 1948 and from reunions over the years. Some of those pictures left with patrons Sunday.

Dick said many of those left in the Red Dragon room would likely go back to St. Albans High.

Judy Jones and Susan Farmer drove from Cross Lanes to the Shoney's Sunday. What was once a quick trip around Goff Mountain and across the Henderson Bridge now is a trek up Interstate 64 and through St. Albans, now that the bridge is shut down.

"I suppose we could have jumped it," Jones said with a laugh, referring to the gaping hole in the bridge where the Department of Transportation is removing sections of the superstructure.

They often eat at Shoney's after church. The two have been friends for more than 20 years and said they have had many a good conversation over a table at a Shoney's restaurant.

"Its just good food," Farmer said. "Its not complicated. Just good, it makes you feel good. The people here were always so nice and friendly.

"I'm sad to see it go and to see so many of them lose their jobs."

One waitress told a family that they only learned of the closing last week and that she was hoping to make enough for rent. She said she didn't have a job lined up yet.

Another, who had worked there for a number of years, said she often had customers tell her they had their first date at the Shoneys. Some of them were celebrating, 20-, 30-, or 40-year anniversaries.

A man and woman arrived at the store just as it closed. They didn't know the restaurant was closing for good. The man, older with a cane, said his union group met at the restaurant and wondered where they would meet now.

The Baiers wondered the same thing.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.

 


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