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Wise Huddle House to serve 400 free breakfasts to laid-off coal miners, families

Steve Igo • Dec 13, 2012 at 10:39 AM

WISE — Out-of-work coal miners and their families can thank loyal customers of a local eatery for free breakfasts coming their way.

Huddle House Inc., a full-service family restaurant chain founded in 1964 that is well known for serving “Any Meal, Any Time,” recently held a nationwide social media contest among its 400-plus diners to determine the favorite Huddle House in America.

Customers of the Wise diner swarmed to the company’s “Huddle House of Representatives” contest on Facebook and the result will be 400 free breakfasts for the laid-off miners and their families.

Vince Justice, general manager of the Wise diner, said the contest was operated “sort of like a basketball tournament” where the original pool of 400-plus restaurants got whittled down to 64, then 32, the Sweet 16, the Great Eight and the Final Four, until only two were left standing. Customer votes posted on the Nov. 3 through Dec. 7 contest determined the dwindling field and final champ.

The diner in Wise prevailed over a Huddle House in Hixson, Tenn., near Chattanooga, by 260 votes, Justice said. As the diner’s general manager and district manager of the area, Justice decided to pledge 400 of the company’s top prize of 500 free meals to Operation Coal Christmas, a soiree to be staged at J.W. Adams Combined School at 5 p.m. Saturday to benefit laid-off miners and their families.

Coupons for the free breakfasts will be included among the gifts to be provided during Saturday’s event that will feature a performance from Dolly Parton’s younger sister, Stella Parton, and cover each member of an unemployed miner’s family, or up to 400 meals consisting of a two-egg breakfast that will include bacon or sausage, hash browns or grits, and toast.

The remaining 100 free meals will be doled out to some of the Wise diner’s most loyal patrons via a special Facebook post after Christmas, Justice said.

“I’m surprised we did as well as we did,” he said. “We won every round. All the local people, our customers, just jumped on it and kept on it all the way through to the end. This is a community diner. We try to help our community. And we thought helping our miners would be the right thing to do. They’ve always supported us so we knew this was our time to show our support, too.”

Jeremy Lee, the company’s field marketing director in Atlanta, said the promotion “was a big deal with us because we like to work real close with our people.” Lee said the winning diner in Wise was “a combination of (Justice’s) personal network and how the community really rallied around trying to win those 500 free meals.”

Lee said the Huddle House of Representatives promotion was a first for the company, so the Wise diner is first of a first.

“They had a strong, commanding lead from the very start of voting. The people of Wise came through and really deserve that they won. They were aggressive the whole way through,” he said. “We’re just really pleased to be a part of that community and to take part in a really special event to do that for the coal miners.”

Justice is a hands-on manager, found Thursday morning at the grill whipping together scrambled eggs and whatever else customers ordered.

“This job requires a working man,” he said. “You can’t be somebody who just sits in an office — a clipboard manager, I call them. You’ve got to get out on the floor and provide top quality, friendly service and talk to the customers. That’s where a loyal customer base comes from.”

Justice has worked at the Huddle House in Wise for 10 years, and 13 years for the company, having also opened the Huddle House that operates in Big Stone Gap. He is originally from Pikeville, Ky., but has lived in Wise County since 1972.

“This has long been home for me, and I knew the folks around here could do it once they put their minds to it. We relied on our customers and our loyal fans to get on Facebook to get us to this point,” he said. “We appreciate being America’s favorite Huddle House.”

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