ORDER UP: Honey's closes for good on Sunday

Aug. 16, 2013 @ 09:03 AM

Honey’s Restaurant, the 24-hour restaurant that has served thousands of breakfasts, lunches and dinners for 53 years in Durham, will serve its last meal on Sunday.

The restaurant, a Durham landmark with a host of loyal regulars and some surprising guest visitors, has lost its lease at its location on Guess Road and Interstate 85.

“It’s not closing because of lack of business,” said owner Buck Dickerson. “The 33 years I’ve been here have been so very successful, and I feel so blessed. The lease is up.”

Dickerson owns Honey’s, but he doesn’t own the property, and Holmes Oil Co., which does own the property, did not renew its lease.

An executive at Holmes Oil Co., located in Chapel Hill, did not return a call asking for information about plans for the property, but word on the street is that Honey’s will be demolished, and a McDonald’s and a Cruizers Convenience Marketplace will be built on the large lot that rubs up against I-85.

Julius Bartell, 61, used to cruise through the Honey’s parking lot when he was a teenager in the 1960s on Friday and Saturday nights. Waitresses on roller skates rolled up to cars and trucks to take orders and deliver food, he said.

Bartell, who is retired, started coming back to Honey’s about 15 years ago and usually stops by two or three times a day for coffee.

The staff and the other regulars are like family, he said.

Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., a crew of regulars comes in for breakfast and gives each other trouble and aggravates each other, Bartell said.

“If you’re short on a dollar, they’ll loan you a dollar,” Bartell said.

James Matthews, 78, from Hillsborough, worked at Honey’s in the 1960s and, after he left to take a job at another restaurant, he’d stop at Honey’s on his way to work to eat breakfast each day.

Now that he’s retired, he only stops by two or three times a week, he said Thursday as he sat drinking coffee on one of the nine green vinyl seats at the counter.

His favorite meal? Chipped beef on biscuits.

“That’s something you can’t get everywhere,” he said.

As time has gone by, some of the regulars have passed away, he said.

“One guy kept a record of people that died off,” he said. “There were 68 different people that had died off.”

Dickerson said he does have a lot of senior customers, but he’s had plenty of college kids, too, especially when Honey’s was the only 24-hour restaurant around. Duke basketball players like Christian Laetner and Grant Hill, sororities, fraternities, baseball teams traveling through, just about everyone seems to have stopped by Honey’s, he said.

Once Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson hosted Good Morning America in the restaurant, and actor Danny DeVito stopped by one night for a late meal.

Honey’s is famous for its home-made chicken salad, and Dickerson said he sells hundreds of pounds of it a week. Customers also like the fresh meats and vegetables.

On Thursday, a sign at the front door said the special of the day was the meatloaf plate for $6.99.

Customers are also crazy about the ice cream hot fudge cake, the banana pudding and the homemade cobblers, he said.

Although Honey’s has been remodeled over the years and even offers free wi-fi to its customers, a few things in the restaurant, like the old cigarette machine, look like they’ve been there since the first day it opened. It still works, said Cindy Chamberlain, the restaurant’s general manager. She has worked there for 18 years.

She, like the other 40 employees, will lose her job when the restaurant closes for good Sunday.

“This place to me is the customers,” Chamberlain said. “They’re loyal. If something is bothering you, they know it’s bothering you. Honey’s is like my family, and Buck, the owner, is really good to work for.”

Honey’s isn’t fancy.

“It’s a down-to-earth place,” Chamberlain said. “It really is, and I’m going to miss it, but I’m also looking for new adventures, too.”

Dickerson is not ready to throw in the towel. He’s been looking for a new building to open a new diner. He doesn’t want to say too much about it yet, but he thinks he’s found a spot that’s not too far away.

Chamberlain hopes that she and the other employees will be rehired at the new restaurant, and she urged some of the waitresses to have faith.

Dickerson said he’s been blessed to own Honey’s.

“I will miss my regulars,” Dickerson said. “There is no question, the saddest part of all of this is losing the relationships I’ve built over 33 years with the community and the individual customers.”