It felt like a wake.
Sitting in the Southern Kitchen, waiting for my to-go order, it had the air of a wake. Amidst all the talking, food being served, checks being paid, the atmosphere was lively, but everyone knew that this unpretentious 24 hour eatery would soon be history. Hell, even the chickens had flown the coop as all the kitschy knick-knacks were missing.
People were coming one last time to say goodbye to a place that had become a fixture, an institution and even though it had been the brunt of a few jokes over the years, it had become something more. People feel like they are losing something personal. Not just an old fashioned, retro chic, greasy spoon, but a piece of history, something tied to their lives. We all have our stories.
Crowned with Crown Royal, my old bandmate Richie Stewart and I hit the Kitchen post gig one very late night. Richie knew only one thing: he wanted a Western Omlet. When the waitress came, he threw all the money from his pocket onto the table and stated flatly, "I want a Western anything!" We translated to the waitress who grinned knowingly.
Walking into the Southern Kitchen was like walking back in time. First, because they hadn't change the decor in decades and second, and most importantly, you were treated to some old fashioned hospitality. You felt welcome, regardless of who you were. The food was basic, simple and prices were truly from another time.
When I arrived, people were lined up for a table. I ran into an old friend. Like everyone else, he was there to enjoy the food one last time. He told me that he had been there several times, bringing his son with him.
He confided that the Mayor and a few of his buddies had made an offer to the evil lady in Texas who had inherited the place, but no dice. Another person earlier had said the idea was to tear it down and sell the lot. I am no real estate mogul, but this ain't exactly prime Kanawha City real estate. The building across the street has struggled for years to keep occupied, even with a variety of businesses taking a shot, but all failing. The Kitchen has survived and outlasted them all.
Marvelous Marvin, a longtime employee, was there and in typical fashion ended up making me laugh.
"Hey Marvin, why don't you run this place?"
"I offered her a check for 5 dollars, but she didn't take it."
"You should have gone to $5.50."
"That would have made a real difference. Should have thought of that."
Even the lady next to me laughed out loud. (The lady later appeared that night on WCHS recounting Marvin's comment.)
He went on to say, "People have been asking me for my autograph all day. I feel like a movie star. " Pause. "I already am in my mind, of course." Indeed, the Marv is a rock star whose star, if tapped by John Waters, would brightly burn as cult figure by now.
Some college age girls were taking pictures of each other. They posed, hugging each other and making sad faces, waving goodbye. They took some quick snaps of some of the politicos' pictures on the wall. They had driven from Morgantown to eat there one final time.
The TV crew caught them outside.
" We had some really good times here. Coming here at any hour."
Yep. I hope it stays, but if the owner won't sell, then nothing can be done.
One thing's for sure.
I'll wager Ms. Hersman is livid.