Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 30, 2012

Tim Preston: King's Table memories and ghosts of burgers past: 12/30/12

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — This will be my final column of the year and I really haven’t strayed too far from home and office during the past week. I have been communicating with a lot of local people about the Christmas Day closing of the Ponderosa restaurant in Ashland’s Midtown Plaza, and even dredged up couple of childhood memories in the process.

It seems like a blue million years ago, back when I was just a little kid, my grandparents, Donis and Daisy Preston, would pile my brothers and myself into a dark blue Oldsmobile Delta 88 and set out on the two-lane U.S. 23 bound for The King’s Table. I put out a general request for other people’s memories of that restaurant because I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about the place except it introduced me to the word “smorgasbord.”

It turns out The King’s Table, which was the first restaurant at the space where Ponderosa was until last week, was a Sunday destination for many families from places like Louisa, Paintsville and Prestonsburg. Several also said they still look at the remaining remnants of the old two-lane road (a few remain in the section between Catlettsburg and Louisa) and remember the days when the path took you through the middle of downtown Prestonsburg, Paintsville and Louisa.

On the flip side, people report The King’s Table days didn’t end well. Nearly each of the stories I heard began with fond memories and ended with incidents involving insects.

Ashland Economic Development Director Chris Pullem said he is confident the space vacated by Ponderosa will have a new tenant in the near future.

“Businesses, especially restaurants, have lifecycles like everything else. The restaurant business has never been more competitive in Ashland than it is now. While we always hate to see one close, mainly because it usually impacts the families of those employed by the restaurant, we will most likely see another open in its place. It's a great location and would be perfect for a locally owned and operated restaurant,” Pullem said.

Switching into “end of the year” mode, the Ashland area lost a couple of restaurants in 2012, including Katie’s Corner Cafe at the corner of 15th Street and Greenup Avenue (although the space didn’t stay idle long and has reopened as The Lamp Post). I wasn’t around back in the days when many in the area made a point to end their nights on the town with a visit to Katie’s, but there’s no shortage of stories about evenings ended there.

On a nearby corner, C.J. Maggie’s American Grill also closed, bringing an end to an era for many local patrons who appreciated large portions and some of the most unusual decor ever encountered. It would be nearly impossible to describe some of the truly unique, often fish-themed, objects incorporated into the interior at C.J.’s, and during my infrequent visits there I always had a feeling the people who worked there had developed a tighter kinship than you generally see behind the scenes at most places. Of course, the primo space at the corner of Winchester Avenue and 15th Street didn’t stay on the market for long, and is now the home of Fat Patty’s, which has proven to be an excellent addition to the city’s collective menu and a real shining star for the downtown arts district.

We also lost Five Guys Burgers and Fries in the past year, although for as much as we all welcomed that one, few seemed to lament the loss. We all agreed the burgers were darned good and their portions of french fries were more than anyone could finish alone, but the bang-for-the-buck factor was a putoff for nearly everyone I spoke to about it. On the other hand, I know many who took the closing of the Wendy’s on Winchester Avenue as a deeply personal loss. I never did hear a reason why that restaurant ceased operations, although I will likely never forget the sadness in editor Mark Maynard’s voice on the day when he stopped to photograph the guys removing the sign. “I’ve eaten there for 25 years,” he said, practically wiping a tear from his eye.

All jokes aside, I’m pretty sure the guy got so depressed about losing his Wendy’s that he then went on a diet and lost a lot of weight in the weeks that followed.

Still open at Smokey Valley

Despite predictions the place would be closed on the day after the Mayans predicted the end of the world, Olive Hill’s Smokey Valley Truck Stop remains open and owner Juanita Flannery reports she has a renewed appreciation of the people who stepped up and offered their support when the business was nearing a tipping point.

“We just reopened yesterday,” Flannery said Thursday morning, reporting the staff of more than 20 had spent their break completing a major cleaning and scrubbing of the one-time truck stop that is now perhaps best known for its signature coconut cream pie and double-patty Smokey Burgers.

“You never get finished ... it’s just like at home,” Flanery said with a laugh.

Without going into detail about the challenges they faced to keep the restaurant open, Flannery made it clear the decision to remain open factored in considerable encouragement from customers.

“We had a good bit of support offered,” she said. “We’re going to stick in there and see what happens.”

Before we got off the phone, Flannery added, “No business needs to close in this economy if you can stay open.” Smokey Valley Truck Stop is open almost 24 hours a day, closing only at 9 p.m. on Saturday for cleaning before customers are welcomed back at 5 a.m. each Sunday. For more information, call (606) 286-5001.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.