Country Kitchen in Newberry to close Dec. 29

Country Kitchen owner Lajuanna Jones’ favorite order to serve up is a concoction she calls Tony’s Slop. 

It’s a combination of a choice of meat, hash browns, eggs, and cheese all scrambled together.

“It’s my favorite when it’s not busy,” she says. “It takes up a lot of space on the grill.”

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Jones is now counting the final days that she will spend cooking up breakfast and lunch orders for loyal customers who frequent the restaurant she bought more than 30 years ago. She plans to retire next week and has sold the business.

Jones is all Newberry, she says. “Born and raised,” says the 1971 graduate of Newberry High School who was working at an electronics job when a conversation at church one Sunday morning turned her into a restaurateur.

That conversation was with fellow Newberry Church of Christ parishioner Harry Reese, who ran the restaurant for six years, Jones said. He mentioned that he was getting ready to sell the business that is located downtown on Newberry Road.

That was April 1990.

Now, almost 31 years later, Jones says she is ready to just exist after working 4:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday for three decades.

“I get up with the chickens and go to bed when the chickens do,” she says about her schedule that starts with setting up for the breakfast crowd, standing at the grill cooking until 2 p.m. and then doing cleanup, inventory and paperwork until she goes home.

Before getting into the restaurant business, Jones worked for an electronics company. She also did some odd jobs, she says, “And helped my aunt at a restaurant in High Springs before it closed.”

Jones saw a change in her customer base over these three decades.

“Hardly any women came in there,” she says when she first took over. “It was mostly all men up front.”

The early morning breakfast spot has long been a gathering place for local farmers, construction crews, commissioners, and even high school students.

“They started coming 10 years ago on the first and last days of school,” Jones says about her student customers. “Then on days with big home football games.”

booth country kitchen

The groups developed steadfast schedules, she says. “Preachers come Thursday mornings, church ladies every Friday morning, and daily visits from Newberry City commissioners, Coleman Construction and cabinet shop and Troy Fowler Construction employees were familiar faces who sat at the large round table near the specials of the day board.

On Dec. 18th, Jones announced on Facebook that she had sold the business.

“It is with a heavy and sad heart and a lot of mixed emotions, but I will be closing on December the 29th,” she posted. “It has been a long 30 years standing behind this grill cooking for so many. I have seen so many kids grow up, get married and have children of their own. The older generation, the ones we learned so much from we have lost them. You grow attached to them calling them your family.”

After 30 years, she said the time is right: “[I]t’s time to take some time for myself, get both of my knees replaced, enjoy being with my sisters and my family, and live and enjoy the time I have left.”

Lajuanna Jones

Jones called the restaurant business an all-consuming enterprise, but she thanked God for helping her do it.

“I’m so sorry to have to leave y’all,” she wrote. “Another restaurant will be opening here soon… but it has been my pleasure to serve you, and I appreciate your business and your support. I love you guys and I will miss you. Thanks for keeping us going so long.”

The post garnered more than 100 comments and shares.

“Thank you so much for allowing us to come into your ‘extended’ kitchen!” commented Newberry Resident Michelle Vance. “We will miss everything about Country Kitchen but we love the memories. We will be back in before the 29th.”

“I’ll miss your bacon….the best!” write retired NHS school nurse Martha Conrad. “Enjoy your retirement….you’ve earned it!”

“Lajuanna you will never know how much you filled my heart when you honored my Mama after she passed,” wrote Patricia McCormick. “She looked forward to her weekly meal with the ladies. For all the years I lived away, I knew I was truly home when I visited and got to sit down at Country Kitchen. I have enjoyed retirement these last two months and I know you will too for the first few months….you surely deserve it. Will try to get my brothers together there one more time before the 29th.”

Another customer named Mac Welch quipped, “If the new place doesn’t have Tony’s Slop, I’m rioting,” 

Loyal clientele and the help of many family members helped keep Jones going over the years. Among many family members she employed, her nieces and nephews worked there while getting their college degrees in teaching and nursing.

Several employees, including the dishwasher, have worked there for 10 to 14 years, she says.

Jones says the new owner will be shutting down the restaurant and remodeling it.

When she closes on Dec. 29th, she says she will have five days to remove the equipment and furniture. Customers have already claimed most of it.

“The singles booths are called for,” Jones says. “We will sell what we can. A lot of people made offers.”

Jones said she is looking forward to having her double-knee replacement and then enjoying her hometown after a lifetime of work: “I want to explore and drive down all of those dirt roads that I’ve haven’t had time to visit.”

Maegan Jones

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