The Coffee Shop

The Coffee Shop’s veteran work crew on Tuesday, cooking and serving food to lunchtime customers.

About the only thing to change about Sylva landmark The Coffee Shop has been the prices. Until now.

The 91-year-old diner soon will have a new owner and a tweak or two to the menu – fresh fruit alongside its signature dishes, including the meatloaf, hamburgers and pie.

Ten-year-employee Barbara Barnes is purchasing the business from Gary Gibson and his wife, Phyllis.

Gary Gibson has been at the restaurant for 52 years in one capacity or another.

“I started washing dishes there in 1967,” he said. “Cicero Bryson and Bill Collins owned it when I went to work there. They hired me part-time for 50 cents an hour. That first week, I worked 60 hours for $30, with taxes held out. That’s what they called ‘part-time’ back then.”

The Coffee Shop then was one of only four or five restaurants in town, he said.

He began working the front grill when the cook was absent, then the kitchen, baking the pies and cooking dinner.

“I just learned how to do everything over time,” he said.

The Gibsons bought the restaurant in 1985 from Collins.

“Bill had it sold to somebody else, but he knew I’d worked and stayed with them, even though I had chances to go work other places,” Gary Gibson said. “He let me buy it at a real reasonable price and financed it for five years for me.”

The Coffee Shop evolved into a family affair.

Phyllis Gibson worked at Buster Brown plant, but quit in 1986 to work at the diner.

“All five of our children have worked there,” Gary Gibson said. “They paid for their cars and their schooling and everything by working there. Four of our grandchildren have worked there. We’ve still got a couple of them there.”

Collins stayed around, helping out the Gibsons.

“We’ve always used fresh ground chuck, and Bill would drive down to Harold’s Supermarket and get it for me until he really retired,” Gary Gibson said.

During the Gibsons’ time at the Coffee Shop, little changed from the way Collins and Bryson ran the restaurant before them, he said.

Meatloaf and hamburger steak were on the menu when he bought the Coffee Shop.

“My customers have been coming in and begging us not to leave or to tell Barbara just to leave it like it is,” he said.

Gary Gibson is 72 and said the couple, who live in Webster, are ready to retire and travel while still in good health.

“You can work all your life, but when you’re on your deathbed you don’t say, ‘Well, I wish I had worked another day,’” he said. “My uncle lives in Alaska. He’s really like a brother to me, and he has been wanting us to come out there and stay with them a while. We’ve been in 47 states and we want to revisit some of them.”

Fourteen people work at the Coffee Shop and they’re all staying, new owner Barnes said.

“I want to keep everything exactly like it is,” she said. “I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life and I just think it would be a good venture.

“The Coffee Shop is very well established and it has great clientele and great employees. Phyllis and Gary were ready to let it go, so they offered me the opportunity.”

Like Gary Gibson before her, Barnes has learned every station in the diner.

“I’m working in the kitchen now, but I’ve been waitressing and running the cash register and doing whatever needed to be done,” she said.

“I’m working with the employees and they’re showing me how they do what they do.”

The menu is going to stay the same with the fruit addition, Barnes said.

“We’re keeping the meatloaf, the chicken and dumplings, and the gravy and biscuits.”

Barnes lives in the Greens Creek community and will lease the building from local businessman David Schulman, who has been leasing it to the Gibsons.

“The Gibsons are phenomenal restaurant operators, and have been one of the best tenants I’ve ever had,” Schulman said on Tuesday.