(Posted Jan. 12, 2016)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
—“Always enjoy seeing you with your smile for us. Thanks for the years I’ve been allowed to come here for breakfast and dinner.”
—“We really enjoyed your service. We will miss you.” (signed “The Breakfast Club”)
—“Thank you so much for being there for me and my son. He took his first steps here. We will always remember.”
—“Where did you say you live? We’ll be down every morning” (for breakfast).
The above are some of the messages customers and employees recently wrote in a memory book that sits next to the cash register at Ben & Joy’s Restaurant.
The iconic Mount Sterling eatery will be auctioned off Feb. 6, the building and its contents going to the highest bidders. Owner Joy Stroup said she’s loved every minute of the 31 years she’s run the place, but that it’s time to retire.
“It’s been fun. Fun to me is helping people and meeting people,” she said. “That’s the thing I hate about hanging it up. People really like to come. There aren’t many restaurants like this left.”
Stroup opened Ben & Joy’s with her former husband, Ben, on Oct. 1, 1984. Stroup brought with her years of restaurant experience. Her first job was as a carhop for Noel’s King Boy in Circleville. She later served as a banquet manager for LK Restaurants in Circleville then managed the LK in Mount Sterling.
When she and Ben, a chef, bought the corner restaurant at 35 S. London St., they filled the menu with their own recipes, all of which are still served today. Regulars from in town, out of town, and even out of state swear by Ben & Joy’s stick-to-your-ribs fare. The fried chicken and perch are perpetual bestsellers.
“It’s home-cooked comfort food. People don’t want things that have been boiled in a bag,” Stroup said.
The comfort food comes with a side of smalltown hospitality. Tina Sutton, a waitress at Ben & Joy’s for the past three years, said the restaurant is a gathering place where everyone knows everyone else or at least treats each other that way.
“You can make an impact on that person that day, and they can make an impact on you,” Sutton said of the give-and-take between customers and staff.
The warm feeling of support exists between staff members, too.
“The people who work for me, I feel like they’re my family,” Stroup said. “When we have downtime, we talk about personal things and help each other out.”
A crew of 14 mans the restaurant, open every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stroup can be found behind the counter or out talking to customers at least part of every single day. She said she will miss it, but that she looks forward to spending more time with her six grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. She also plans to give more time to Inner City Mission, a Columbus organization for which she has been a volunteer since 1990.
Stroup said she will take just a few keepsakes with her before the restaurant is auctioned off, two of them being signs her son, Skip, gave to her years ago. One reads, “It ain’t food if it ain’t fried.” The other reads, “Mom’s Diner.”