My Last Boone Drug Breakfast
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, before my family moved to Watauga County permanently, we used to visit Boone to see my grandparents and other relatives on my mom’s side of the family.
My grandfather, Councill Robbins, was a tall white-haired man of few words and stoic demeanor. As a treat for his visiting grandsons, he would take my brother, Greg, and myself to the Boone Drug lunch counter for chocolate milkshakes and those cheese crackers with the peanut butter inside.
Something about the saltiness of those crackers and the sweetness of the Hershey’s chocolate syrup in the milkshakes bonded in my brain, and to this day the combination takes me right back to that lunch counter, elbow-to-elbow with Councill.
(My brother and I never called him “grandpa” or “pappy.” He was always Councill to us, but that is a story for another day.)
I had what was likely my last meal at the Boone Drug lunch counter this week. After 90 years of serving breakfasts and burgers to ASU students, downtown business people, tourists and locals, the storied eatery will close for good this weekend.
With most ASU students out of town for winter break, breakfast business was slower than usual at Boone Drug. Around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the five women working behind the counter were taking care of about 10 to 12 customers. A trio of regular customers sat on the stools at the counter, a couple of families sat in booths, and the “business regulars” held court at the long table in the middle of the dining room.
“When I was a little girl, we used to come to town every Saturday,” said Brenda Combs, a lifelong Watauga County resident who now works at Appalachian State University. “Our big treat was to come to Boone Drug for ice cream. Mom’s favorite was butter pecan.
“Back in the ’60s, it was the only drug store in town, so if you had to come and get medicine, you would also get some kind of treat from the lunch counter.”
Added Combs’ dining partner, Loretta Keller, “I’ve been in Boone all of my life. I’m going to miss the friendships in this place. It’s always been a place where you could meet with your friends or talk with the people who work here.”
Years ago, the Boone Drug lunch counter featured an electric toy train that traveled along a loop above the kitchen area. As it came out of the tunnel on the left side it would roll past a little cardboard façade of the businesses on King Street. The cardboard façade, which is still there, is a tribute to Boone businesses that are long gone, such as Spainhour’s Department Store, Yogi’s Sub Shop and, more recently, Farmers Hardware. The only two businesses on the façade that are still in operation are Boone Drug and Dancey’s Shoes.
“I moved here in 1953, and I’ve been coming to Boone Drug to eat regularly since 1961,” said Wade Wilmoth, a retired Realtor who lives in Boone.
Wilmoth is one of the regulars who populate the “business” table, a long rectangular table in the middle of the dining room where gossip is shared, deals are made and friendships developed among the business, civic and government leaders in downtown Boone.
Business being light this time of year, Wilmoth enjoyed his Wednesday morning sharing a biscuit and gravy plate with a young woman named Hannah Townsend. Joining them were Larry Nance and Tony Isaacs.
“I’ve been coming to Boone Drug to eat since 1944,” Isaacs said. “I don’t know where we’re going to go after it closes. Maybe the Mountain House?”
From 1999 to 2003, I lived in an apartment above the businesses on King Street. It was the time when I frequented Boone Drug most often. My memories of the place include the time street artist William “Willi” Armstrong threw a hissy fit because he was too late for breakfast (they eventually relented and cooked him some eggs), and how the restaurant once had the shyest waitress in the world, one who literally could not make eye contact and would run away before you were through ordering.
As I continued talking with folks at the lunch counter Wednesday, we started to make connections. Cashier Lois Norris had attended Rutherwood Baptist Church with my late grandmother, Edna Eason, as did Loretta Keller’s mother. Line cook Janie Hicks lives down the road from my father in Triplett. Wilmoth is a longtime friend of my cousin Don Langdon and asked me to give Don and his family my regards the next time I spoke with him.
As the warmth and familiarity of the place sunk in, I decided that Wednesday’s breakfast would not be my last meal in Boone Drug after all. Maybe I’ll see you there this Saturday.