Barb’s Diner Serves Its Last Meal
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”
The lyrics of Cheers’ theme song are as familiar as the desire. Everyone wants a place to go, to belong. In Middlebourne that place was Barb’s Diner. . . until this Friday. Thursday, Aug. 27, was the last day of business for the Main Street staple.
The “For Sale” sign has been on the door for months, but by Friday its urgency was punctuated with a locked door. Proprietor Barb Anderson had finally closed the business. She is ready for a new chapter of her life, but the ending was certainly bittersweet.
On Thursday, there were many tears shed, laughter shared, and fond remembrances brought to light as patrons came in for one last meal from Barb’s Diner. Some patrons asked why she hadn’t warned everyone a bit sooner about the impending last day.
“Oh, I just didn’t really know when I was going to finally close,” said Barb, who admitted she probably decided on Wednesday that the next day would be her last in the restaurant business.
Regular Steffi Miller said when she told her daughter Megan, a junior at Tyler Consolidated High School, on Wednesday evening that the next day would be the final for Barb’s Diner, she looked numb.
“Well, I’ll have to get up early then and go in for breakfast,” was her reply. Megan followed through, arising at 6 a.m. to go have a last plate of her favorite biscuit and sausage gravy. “And Megan doesn’t get up early for anyone!” Steffi told Barb Thursday afternoon, making her point very clear.
Steffi and two co-workers in the Tyler County Assessors Office, Patty Weekley and Lisa Jackson, also found their way to the diner for a last lunch. When they came in the door they were at a loss of which table they should choose for the momentous meal.
“Who knew it would be so hard just to decide where to sit?!” they exclaimed.
They settled in the front table and Barb came right over with their drinks-without even taking an order. She does that for just about everyone who has eaten at Barb’s Diner in the past. She remembers. She reads your mind. She delivers. That is one of the many things her customers will miss.
They will also miss the camaraderie-often while sitting around the big long table that takes up one third of the dining room. It doesn’t have an official name, but it has been called the Local Table, Community Table, Campin’ Out Table, Gossip Table, or even the They Think They Know Everything Table. It has been a place where people come and go all day long. The conversation continues throughout the day, but the participants come and go. It might even be thought of like the kitchen table of a big family where the matriarch keeps the food coming as long as a person is hungry.
On Thursday someone called over to retired teacher Dena Brant, who had both breakfast and lunch at the table that day, and asked her if she had even left the restaurant. She assured she had. But when the conversation continued, wondering what she would do the next day, she said, “Cook my own breakfast, I guess.”
Retired teachers are often at Barb’s Diner particularly on the first day of school. So are many parents on that noteworthy day. It has become a tradition . . . one that can no longer go on exactly as it has in the past.
Jackson said her family members and some others go to Barb’s for breakfast each Sunday before church. They’ve been doing it for over 20 years. It won’t be the same without it open. The restaurant is also packed on Sunday after church as people clamor for Barb’s home-style specials.
There is also a group of five to six older ladies who go to Barb’s Diner for lunch every Thursday at 11 a.m. They enjoy each others company and, of course, the food. They, understandably, shed a few tears that day when they ate their last meal at Barb’s.
Anderson said her restaurant has been like a big family. In fact, for some patrons it created a family for them. “They were devastated when I would close for a holiday,” she noted. “I’m going to miss them.”
However, she is also looking forward to taking a break. Barb’s Diner was open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week. She would usually get up at 2:30 a.m. in order to be in the restaurant by 4 or 4:30 a.m. to begin preparations for the day.
Of course Anderson didn’t do it all alone. Her staff included John Wells, Nina Vanmeter, and volunteer help Kay Riggs.
Anderson has owned the restaurant for 18 years, but worked there for 26.
“I’ve been here so long, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” she noted. “I’ve been through a lot with people.”
And a lot of people have been through Barb’s. The clientele at Barb’s Diner is as varied as her menu. Everyone from toddlers to retirees, farmers to judges, and abstractors to hunters. Some made a point to eat at her restaurant once a year when in the vicinity, while others ate two meals a day there.
The people and the food made it worth returning. Each person had their favorite item on the menu or maybe on the specials board as their limited availability made them more desired.
Her macaroni salad could probably have its own social media presence. The unique combination included cheese and peas. The ladies from the Assessors Office cackled that they once witnessed a newbie who looked at the concoction and asked Barb if she could take out the peas. “Who’s going to take the peas out?!” asked Weekley. “Not Barb!”
Anderson is of the non-nonsense variety of waitress, with a sometimes slightly sharp tongue. She told someone Thursday, “I’m always in a good mood, I just don’t always show it.”
Her style has served her, her customers, and Middlebourne well.