Coffee Kettle: End of a place called home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 1, 2001

Features Editor

There’s no place like home, but "sometimes you wanna go where everybody’s knows your name."

Those places are different for different folks, but they are important places and when they close their doors, their patrons feel left out in the cold.

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And, sometimes, they cry.

That’s the way it was for Robert "Pops" Somerville Tuesday when he walked out of the Coffee Kettle on Highway 231 in Troy and the manager hung a "Closed" sign on the door.

Closed signs have never had a place at the Coffee Kettle. The modern version of the old diner was a 24-7 operation. It never closed. But when it did, it closed for good and it was a sad day.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, every Coffee Kettle in the country officially closed its doors and brought to an end an era of dining for people of walks of life.

"It came as a complete shock to all of us," said Brenda Williams, who had managed ‘the kettle’ for 10 years. "I was told the Tuesday before but was told not to make the announcement until Oct. 30. I was bumfuzzled. We were doing good. We were making money. I had no idea. No one did."

Williams said the owners of the Coffee Kettle chain considered it a "toy."

"I guess they got tired of it and decided they didn’t want to do it anymore," she said. "It was a sad day for me, my employees and my customers – my friends."

The diner had operated under the name of the Coffee Kettle since 1989. Prior to that it was the Omelet Shop.

"Actually, it’s been a home-type diner for about 30 years, making it the oldest restaurant that has operated in the same place on the highway in a long time," Williams said. "It has been a home away from home for many people. We had regular customers who came in here to visit as much as they did to eat. It was a friendly place, with good food and everybody did know your name."

Customers came from all walks of life to sit at the counter or in the booths at the Coffee Kettle.

"We had truck drivers who always stopped here; we had tourists who came again and again when they were traveling through: we had senior citizens who would spend hours here during they day and college students who would spend half the night with us," Williams said.

Being open in the wee hours of the morning and late at night, the employees got to really know

their customers and they became good friends.

Somerville has been going to the Coffee Kettle every day for 15 years. Some days, he would sit around for hours. Sometimes he would stay all day.

"I just liked being there with people I knew," he said. "I had a lot of friends there and they kind of looked after me. I’m going to miss this place. I couldn’t believe them when they said they were closing their doors. I can’t figure out why. Folks like me needed a place to go that felt like home. This was it for me."

The "witching hour’ was supposed to be 2 p.m., but Williams said she was running out of everything, so she locked the door an hour early.

At 2 p.m., Somerville was still sitting in his car right in front of the door with the "Closed" sign painfully visible.

"I can’t bring myself to leave," he said.

"Pops has been a fixture here for many years," Williams said. "Some days, he would come and sit in his car for hours, watching people go in and out. He just wanted to be here. I feel so bad for him and for all of those who called our place a home away from home."

Somerville said he will be looking to find another place where he can have hot cakes and sausage and share them with folks he calls "my buddies."

"I don’t know where that will be," he said. "Today something ended for me and it makes me real sad."