KINGSPORT — When Hobert “Skip” Smith started the Dairy Cup in Mount Carmel more than 40 years ago, the menu was very simple: hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream.
Four decades and four locations later, Skip’s Diner will end Saturday the way it started, with hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream.
Now that he's gone, wife Jimmie, son Chip and, daughter Charity have decided to close Skip's Diner in the Allandale shopping center, which has grown to landmark status in east Hawkins County.
Saturday is the last day
Chip told the Times News on Tuesday that the current Skip's Diner location was originally intended to have a simple menu of hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream only, just like the original Dairy Cup that Skip started in Mount Carmel in the 1970s.
"Slowly people would come in and start asking for stuff from the (old) diner," Chip said. "They'd want meatloaf or this or that, and dad just kept adding and adding and adding. Another good customer for 15 years would come in and say 'you need barbecue,' and dad would add barbecue. The next thing you know, we've got a gigantic menu."
Chip added, "But we're going to end on hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream. It's kind of full circle. That's how he started at Dairy Cup, and that's the way we're going to end."
After operating the Dairy Cup for 18 years, Skip opened Skip's Diner in Mount Carmel at the intersection of Main Street and Kaywood Avenue in 1997.
Later he sold out to an auto parts chain and opened SKIPEZ Market at the intersection of Main Street and Hammond Avenue and then finally opened the last Skip’s Diner in Allandale 10 years ago.
Skip's decision to leave the first three locations was precipitated by the same unfortunate incident.
"He'd had a heart attack at each of these places," Jimmie said.
Chip: "He had a heart attack, sold; had a heart attack, sell; have a heart attack, sell — and then here. SKIPEZ was a lot harder work than the restaurant business, and he didn't like the convenience store side of that."
Jimmie: "So he just gave that up and we came over here."
Chip: "He loved to work. He retired after Dairy Cup, and I just don't think he could take it. He missed his people. His favorite thing to do was come out in the dining room and go from table to table talking to people. He enjoyed the work, but the people were the main thing."
Why close it down?
Jimmie: "Retirement. Forty years is plenty, and I want to retire while I have good health and I can do what I want to do."
It's going to be hard for Jimmie to say goodbye. She admitted that she’s dreading Saturday night.
Jimmie: "But this is what he would have wanted. This was going to be it for him. He didn't want to do anything else. This was the last restaurant that he wanted because of his health. He wanted to retire, so that's what I'm going to do."
How many hamburgers have they sold in 40 years?
Chip says there's no way of knowing, but he would put it in the millions.
But if there's one thing they sold more than hamburgers, it would probably be hot fudge cake.
Skip's was famous for its 2-for-1 hot fudge cake deal going all the way back to the beginning of Dairy Cup.
What would you like to say to the customers?
Jimmie: "Thanks for the memories. We'll miss them, and I know they'll miss us."
Chip: "You have the regulars that come in and sit in the same place, same time, same days and eat the same thing every day."
Jimmie: They've been super people, and they've stuck with us from Dairy Cup up to here. When we had the Dairy Cup, we'd give free ice cream to all the ball teams after their games, and now those kids are all grown, married and have kids of their own, and they're bringing their kids here."
There won't be any ceremonies or speeches Saturday.
At 9 p.m. when the last hamburger has been served, the lights will be shut off and the doors to Skip's Diner will be locked one final time.
It will be the end of an era.