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Customers line up for diner's last day
Story and Photos by Shirley Brosius

Patrons pause by a table to chat as they leave the R & K Diner on one of the last days it was open.

It ended as it started – with customers lined up at the door.

On the last day of October, the R & K Diner, east of Elizabethville, closed its doors after serving hungry customers for 46 years—to the day.

“This last week was like old times,” said Kay Rice, who with her husband, William, owned the restaurant in partnership with Hilda and the late Jonathan Klinger. “That’s how it used to be when we first started out.’’

But the co-owners reached retirement age – Kay Rice is 75 and Hilda Klinger, 82 – and they want to spend time with families; they want to celebrate birthdays at normal hours instead of having to wait until after closing time.

“They say the two best days of buying a restaurant are the first day and the last day,” said Klinger. “It’s sort of the truth. I’m too old for this. I work six-seven days a week. That’s too much.’’

A diner since 1954. According to the women, the diner – at that time an old railroad dining car – opened as Bobby Snyder’s 24-Hour Diner in June, 1954. Since then, the business has passed through several hands.

Betty Snyder visited the diner later in the 1950s at her brother’s invitation. He had his eye on a waitress, and he wanted to introduce Betty to then-owner, the late Clyde Snyder (no relation to Bobby).

“And the rest is history,” Snyder said. “We were married in 1959. We worked (the diner) for awhile, then the hotel in Loyalton became for sale, and we bought that.”

They then rented out the diner – which like most diners, had only a counter with stools; however, Clyde Snyder had added a small dining area to the facility.

According to Betty Snyder, she most enjoyed the friends they made.

“You had a nice clientele, and we got to know a lot of people that we wouldn’t have gotten to meet if we had not been in there,” she said. “Clyde was not that much of a talker, but he really liked being around people. That pretty much rubbed off on me also.”

In time, the Snyders sold the restaurant to Lee and Iva Hoffman, and they built additions on to what was called Iva’s Diner.

‘It’s been a good business.’’ The Rices and the Klingers – hence the name R & K Diner – bought the restaurant from Hoffmans in 1969. The women are cousins and Klinger’s husband was an uncle to Rice’s husband. Both families live in Loyalton.

“I worked in the factory, and I didn’t like the factory, so we bought a restaurant,” Klinger said. “We just made a career out of it.”

The women served as cooks, and William Rice kept the books. For many years, Jonathan Klinger ran the R & K Garage next door.

When purchased, the property had many steps and corners, so in 1972, the co-owners built the restaurant as it now stands and demolished the former structure, including the railroad dining car. Two pieces of stainless steel – shelving with a milk dispenser and a storage cupboard – were salvaged and used until the current day.

The remodeled R & K Diner opened September 1, 1973 and boasted a dining room that seated 50, with 13 booths and 21 stools at counters.

“In the beginning we had real good business because there wasn’t any other restaurant around,” Rice said.

But as grocery stores opened deli counters, fast food places appeared and gas stations began offering food as well, they noticed some decline.

“But we’ve been rather busy,” Rice said. “It’s been a good business. People like to sit down and have a full breakfast.”

And they kept prices low: Cheese omelet, $2.50; ham and cheese omelet, $3.50; one slice thick French toast, $1.30. Available Saturdays: chipped dry beef on toast, $3.95.          

Likewise, sandwich prices: Beef patty with cheese, $1.95; chip steak with cheese, $2.30; and a customer favorite, hot beef sandwich with gravy, $4.25. Platters started at $6.75.

Rices’ three children also got involved in running the restaurant. Besides the daily traffic, they hosted banquets and birthday parties, wedding receptions and Christmas parties. The week before closing, they hosted a funeral dinner.

“It makes you feel like you kinda let the people down,” Rice said.

According to Rice, the property was purchased by Leslie Horst of Gratz, who plans to open a produce stand.

‘It is like a family.’’ On the Thursday before the diner closed, Gene “Mush” Miller and Charlie Wertz, both of Elizabethville, chatted over breakfast. They had been coming to the restaurant ever since it opened.

“To get all the gossip,” Miller joked.

According to Wertz, he will miss the food and the people.

“I usually have the eggs and bacon,” he said. “There is a group that comes in at six in the morning; then around eight, usually another group comes in.”

The men said they had no idea where they would now go for breakfast.

Harry and Mary Smeltz of Jackson Twp. drove the eight miles to R & K once or twice each week.

She usually ordered a pancake or an egg and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread. And coffee, of course. He preferred home fries, scrambled eggs and bacon – very crisp bacon, please.

“It is like a family,” Mary said. “Everybody is so friendly. They always say ‘Hi’ to you. We cook up some conversation (with other patrons). It’s like a social event.”

As Marilyn Headdings of Lykens Twp. ate French toast and her husband, Gene, pancakes, they pondered where they will now go for breakfast.

“I said (to a friend), we will have to eat at home,” she said, “and he said, ‘We are not going to start that again.”

The Headdings have regularly visited the restaurant for Sunday dinners.

“Friday nights, I love their macaroni and cheese,” Marilyn said.

Ruth Ann Sims of Lykens Twp. worked as a waitress at the restaurant for 14 years.

“I took up residence here a hundred years ago,” she said, laughing.

She had continued meeting with a counter full of patrons for Sunday dinners for 20 years.

‘‘I don’t like it at all,” she said of the closing. “It will really hurt the area.”

Peg Strohecker of Lykens ordered home fries, deep-fried but not too crisp.

As she waited for her order, she said she and her late husband, Dean, liked to visit the restaurant for breakfast each Thursday.

“I don’t even have to tell the one waitress my order: eggs, home fries, sausage,” she said. “It’s because of their sausage that I always like to come here. It is just delicious.”

‘‘Where are we going to go?’’ Sitting in the deserted diner, Rice and Klinger expressed appreciation to their customers.

“We are thankful for the patronage that they gave us,” Rice said. “They are like family. Everybody seemed to know each other. Sort of like a big family coming here to eat. You knew what they were going to order before they even ordered.”

So the women chose to close on the very day they opened – Oct. 31.

And it turned out to be a very busy day.

“The waitresses bring the orders back and lay them on the table,” Klinger said. “We had the table full. They were piling orders upside down. We had a stack over here – some three, some six deep.”

Customers snapped up menus, took pictures and one even posted a YouTube video.

I was sad,” Rice said. “Some came back and gave you a kiss and a hug. They said, ‘We are going to miss you. Where are we going to go? What are we going to do?”

For now, Rice plans to clean her house and take some day trips. Klinger has no special plans.

But first, they will donate unopened food to a Harrisburg mission and vacate the premises.

Betty Snyder said she felt a twinge of sadness as she passed the diner Nov. 1, the Sunday after the closing. People throughout the valley surely echo her sentiments.


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