LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) — After 73 years as “Whitehouse No. 1” on Sixth Street, the local breakfast and lunch diner is shutting its doors after Aug. 1.
Owner Karen Grisamore stepped outside the restaurant Friday morning after six hours at the breakfast grill, where she’d been cooking pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage since 3:30 a.m. As she let assistant Vicki Jackson take care of the odd diner coming in for a brunch, she said she’d decided to close Whitehouse Restaurant about a month ago.
Grisamore began telling customers Tuesday, explaining her decision to “regulars” one by one or in small groups. It wasn’t easy to make, she told the Pharos-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1tI9PUu ).
As she took her seat in one of the plastic chairs, she described how some of the regulars liked to sit in those chairs early in the morning, watching the sun rise over the buildings toward the east.
“They love coming out here and sitting and talking to one another,” she said. Then she started wiping her eyes, struggling to get her next words out.
“It’s really hard. There’s some kids come in here that I love. I really love.”
Grisamore bought the restaurant seven years ago from her stepfather, Lester Isaacs, after having worked there for nine years under his ownership. Isaacs, who passed away in 2012, had cooked for Whitehouse Restaurant for 61 years — up until late 2011 — and owned the restaurant since 1975. He’d bought it from the restaurant’s founders, Loren and Mabel Kathrens.
Founded in 1941 just before the U.S. was thrust into World War I, the restaurant has seen its ups and downs.
It became “No. 1,” Grisamore said, when the Kathrens opened two other Whitehouse Restaurant locations around town — on the ground floor of the Barnett Hotel near Market and Second streets, which later moved to a Market Street lot that’s since become a city-owned pocket park, and on the corner of Fifth and Broadway where Boardwalk Cafe is now.
There’s been just the one since before Isaacs purchased the business. It’s where Grisamore has spent about 55 hours a week for the last few years, serving an estimated 50 people a day on average in the 13 bar stools and four booths in the small diner.
Most diners, she said, are regulars like 66-year-old Roger Myer of Deer Creek.
He’s been stopping in at Whitehouse Restaurant almost daily for at least 25 years, he said. Another diner called out that it might be closer to 35 years, since she remembered him from when she started coming in the 1980s.
“I can come in here and I can harass and I can sing ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ and play my kazoo and not get kicked out,” Myer explained, tongue in cheek. He likes the camaraderie built up among diners and with Grisamore and Jackson, he added.
“Not many places you can come in and interact with everybody,” he said.
Grisamore described the interactions as a big family.
“You walk in the door — ‘Hi, Roger, hi Shirley, hi, Brenda. You feel OK?‘” she said, naming a few customers she’s gotten to know well.
The restaurant’s Facebook page reflects the familial character. Interspersed between friendly invitations to dine on burgers or waffles is information about longtime customers’ funerals or pictures of the regulars hanging out in the sidewalk chairs.
As Myer ordered his usual request — pancakes and sausage, sometimes varied with eggs — he said he was disappointed the restaurant was closing, saying he wasn’t “into change.”
“I don’t like it, but it’s something that’s got to happen, I guess,” Myer said.
Grisamore said the decision to close the restaurant was a personal one. She’d sought a buyer for the business last year with no success.
And last year, as well, what once was a busy Saturday morning has become a slow trickle of diners looking for a weekend breakfast.
“Business has just been down for some reason and I don’t know why,” Grisamore said. “It’s just time.”
Grisamore has already started part-time work as a fry cook at her brother Larry Isaacs’ restaurant, Amelio’s and Ike’s at Fifth and Melbourne streets. She’ll move to full-time work there after Whitehouse Restaurant closes, she said.
She and Jackson broke the news to a pair of young boys Thursday. “They about broke down and cried,” Jackson said.
Grisamore let each boy take his chocolate milk in one of her glass Coca-Cola bottles — just for once.
“I told them, if you eat all the sausage on your plate and drink all your chocolate milk, you can take these Coke bottles home with you,” she said.
It’s how she hopes to keep the memory of Whitehouse Restaurant in the minds of the children who come with their parents or grandparents. She also plans to give away the 30 to 50 plastic dinosaur toys she usually has on hand to keep children occupied while they wait for their meal.
But there are a few things she’ll put in her dining room at home.
“Anything that says Whitehouse on it is going to my house,” she noted.
Information from: Pharos-Tribune, http://www.pharostribune.com