Little Chef Restaurant, which has been serving comfort-food lunches and all-night breakfasts on Williamson Road in Roanoke for more than 50 years, has become the latest casualty in a ruthless economy.
It closed today after an emotional lunch service.
Russell Barton, who bought the business in 2004 with his brother Phillip, said the majority of their clientele has always been blue-collar workers and he doesn’t think they have the money to dine out anymore.
“They used to eat here five and six times a week, but they can’t do that now,” he said. In addition, the building is in dire need of improvement, but Barton said he couldn’t justify putting more of his money into it.
As word of the closure spread among regulars this week, they stopped by the landmark white building with its peaked blue roof and striped awning one last time to say goodbye to their favorite employees and food. Some hugged the waitresses and struggled not to cry.
“There’s not many that come in here that we do not know their name,” Barton said.
He and cook Kathy Allison said the best-selling dishes at Little Chef since the Bartons reopened it have been biscuits with gravy, country-fried steak and the Friday special, fried catfish.
Little Chef originally opened near the corner of Williamson Road and Orange Avenue in the 1950s. For years, it was the hot spot to hit for late-night sustenance. In the 1980s, it was purchased by Gary Nimer, who called it Gary’s Little Chef. He closed it in July 1999.
One month later, it opened with new owners, who kept it running until about 2004, when the Bartons bought it. They stayed open all night until February, when they began to close at 9 p.m.
Russell Barton said they put tens of thousands of dollars into remodels before they reopened Little Chef in the summer of 2005, but they have been able to pay off all those debts.
“I’m going out with my head up,” he said. “But I’m sad.”
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Do you have Little Chef memories of your own?