The family-owned business is turning off the grill and the milkshake machine and all the rest for good.
Glenn and Annette Belcher opened their little venture in the early 1960s and became a big part of the downtown business culture of the town of Wise.
Their daughter, Glennette Belcher Orender, kept the much beloved, iconic business going after the deaths of her father (1975) and mother (1996). She practically grew up in the business, as did her own children, for that matter. But it’s time for Glennette and family to put the period on the final sentence of a delightful family story.
“End of story,” said Glennette on Wednesday. “It’s gone.”
Another restaurant entrepreneur has a lease-to-buy pact in the works, Glennette said, with renovation plans in mind. But it just won’t be Annette’s Dairi Barn any longer.
Since the sign went up just a few days ago, loyal customers — and they are legion — went into a tizzy. The final week of business has been beyond brisk as customers swarm for one last burger or hot dog, one final milkshake, one final food fling at the Dairi Barn, and to say goodbye. Glennette and family are shooting for a Sunday closure, but they don’t believe they’ll make it that long because the final supplies are going out the door fast.
“People have come here crying and everything. It’s like a grieving spot,” Glennette said, keeping a close guard herself to ward off tears.
A third-generation employee, Regina Miller Cox, offered that ever since word of the imminent closure go around, “It’s been wild here. Wild, wild, wild!”
Glennette’s daughter, Tiffany Richards, “worked here in high school, in college. And did a lot of my growing up right here in this place.” Tiffany lives in Richmond now, but over the years she has come home to help her mother when needed. She has returned to help her mother close up the family business for good.
“I’m really kind of devastated, actually,” Tiffany said. “It’s really sad to see it go. For as long as I can remember, this has been the one thing our family has always revolved around. It’s like a death, to be honest.”
Glennette said she knows it is time for retirement. She yearns for the next chapter in her own life, after all. Tiffany said “it’s just too hard” for her mother to manage. And when it’s time to hang it up, it’s time.
Glennette’s parents started the business at the main drag location with a smaller frame structure, one of those little drive-in joints of that day where customers stood outside and were served through little sliding windows. Glennette herself recalls her favorite thing back then, when she was but 7 or 8 years old, was sliding open one of those order/serve windows to welcome customers.
A warm welcome has always been right at the top of the Dairi Barn's menu. Glennette’s father died the same year (1975) the larger, long familiar eat-in building was opened. Whether it’s eat-in or takeout, Annette’s Dairi Barn has always been handy, friendly, sinfully yummy and, well, always right there to pull in and fill up with a cold refreshment on a hot day or a hot meal any time.
Regina Cox, the third-generation employee — starting with her grandmother, Carrie Miller; her mother, Irene Miller; and a last-chance dive into the fourth generation with her own daughter, “13 now and going on 21,” lending a hand lately — said she would guess the Dairi Barn served up a thousand burgers and a thousand hot dogs a month during its run and that’s just a guess, most likely way short of the reality.
“What I do know is, during the last two days we’ve sold about 5,000,” Regina laughed, as customers come to say their goodbyes and drown their sorrows in a final Dairi Barn shake.
Glennette said the response from the community has been a bit overwhelming. But that’s what happens when a “family” business means the greater family of the town of Wise and surrounding communities.
“I can honestly say I have loved my customers,” said Glennette. “A lot of these fast foods can’t say that. But I can.”
It can be honestly stated, as well, that all of its customers have always loved the Dairi Barn. That’s why Glennette and family might not make it to the preplanned closure on Sunday. They’re just flat out running out of stuff faster than anticipated a mere two days after putting up the closure sign.
The legion of mourners just aren’t grieving. They’re hauling a final taste of the Dairi Barn out the doors as long as they yet swing open.
“Like Regina said,” a thoughtful Glennette reflected, “it’s been wild!”
And quite a half-century-plus ride.