BUCKHANNON – Restaurant regulars usually pop in their favorite spots once a week, and if they’re really devoted, maybe once a day.
But Brake’s Dairy King regulars? They dip in at least once a day, and most days, twice – for breakfast, for iced tea, for soup and sandwiches, for soft-serve ice cream, and for a taste of the friendly atmosphere.
Jim Wagner, who’s been a fan of Brake’s since it opened in the late 1990s, has always frequented the ice cream shop and restaurant, but over the past four or five years, he found himself stopping in even more often.
“I’ve been going in there since 1999, but I’ve been real regular over the last four or five years,” Wagner said. “I’ll go in there once a day, sometimes twice a day, for breakfast and lunch.”
In the morning, Wagner traditionally ordered the sausage roll, but since he’s developed some health issues, he has had to modify his diet. Now, he’s ditched the bread and switched to a simple sausage-patty-and-egg combo. A lunch favorite is the chicken wrap with Ranch dressing, and although he can’t order it these days, Brake’s classic hot fudge cake was his go-to sweet treat.
Sunday, November 14 was Wagner’s – everyone’s – last chance to eat at Brake’s Dairy King and share some friendly banter with owner Chris Brake and his staff. That’s because the longtime small business owner is retiring from the food service industry and closing his doors for the final time.
“At 8 p.m. November 14th, we’ll lock her up for the last time,” Brake said Wednesday.
After nearly 24 years of serving up sweet soft-serve, doling out the biggest banana splits around, and blending razzles laced with crunchy bits of candy, Brake is closing BDK due to staffing issues and a lack of incoming applications.
Brake says he’s just grateful for the support he’s received from the Buckhannon-Upshur community and visitors from the surrounding area for close to a quarter of a century.
“I just want to say thanks to this great community,” he said. “Everybody knows why I’m closing – they get it. I just want to say I’ve been able to live here all my life, and this is a wonderful community, and it took good care of me for 24 years. I’m just happy to have been able to be here.”
Brake said he treasures the friendships and community connections he’s developed through donating ice cream, cakes, coupons for cones and hotdog chili sauces to innumerable youth sports teams, schools and charitable causes.
“I have made a lot of good friends and met a lot of people that I did not know, who have come in and have adopted our great little town as theirs,” Brake added. “And I’ve gotten to meet a lot of those people and make some good friends.”
One of those connections he’s made is with Dr. Raymond Leonard and his wife, Kenna Leonard, who relish starting their workdays at Brake’s and stopping back later for an iced tea refill or maybe a raspberry ice cream cone.
“The raspberry soft-serve was my favorite, and I fought with him all winter long until he brought it back,” Leonard joked. “I just liked going in there to see the people who were in there, and then of course, to get the iced tea and to catch up with Chris and other friends.”
Brake, who opened BDK on April 3, 1998, says he started small.
“We started with ice cream and some limited food, but then the food expanded over time and took over,” he said.
His favorite dessert on that menu is the Oreo razzle: “Is there anything else?” he joked. Pair that with a pepperoni roll and his potato soup, and you have the perfect meal, he said.
Beyond his customers, Brake says he’s thankful for the camaraderie he’s had with his employees.
“It’s been great, getting to know a lot of kids and special employees, some of whom have adopted me,” he said.
One employee more special than most was Brake’s daughter, Abbie Brake Williams, who started helping out at BDK when she was 11 and worked long supervising shifts by the time she was in high school and old enough to drive herself.
Williams laughed, remembering some of those times, like how she used to have to stand on a crate because she was too short to reach the register.
“That’s why we cut the counter and dropped the register down into the counter,” she recalled.
In a social media post announcing BDK’s closure, Williams said working at Brake’s Dairy King with her dad had been integral their relationship, crediting him with teaching her the importance of working hard, thinking things through, giving back to the community and many other lessons.
“Obviously, I just loved being there with him, but another one of my favorite things was both behind the counter and in front of the counter,” Williams said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The girls – the adopted Dairy King family — became such a huge part of our lives and never went away.”
Seeing her grandparents duck in for refreshments also made Williams really happy.
“One of my favorite things was seeing my grandparents in there, enjoying Dad’s food and all of his work,” Williams said. “That’s one of the things that I wish I had a picture of.”
These days, Williams is a once-a-week regular, bringing her two-year-old daughter Penelope in every Friday morning for breakfast with her grandfather, whom she calls “Grumps.” Penelope prefers “pink ice cream with sprinkles” (raspberry soft-serve), and aside from the Oreo razzle and the ever-popular potato soup, Williams will opt for a plain chocolate cone and a solid grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.
“I’ll eat anything on my dad’s bread – I adore his bread,” she said.
Aside from the food, what the most loyal BDK patrons say they’ll miss most is the welcoming, light-hearted atmosphere and Brake’s gregariousness.
“You’d run into so many people, and whether you know them or not, that was always great,” Leonard said. “The conversations were so varied, and it was such an inclusive environment. I’m going to be sad to see it go.”
Wagner agreed, saying that if Chris Brake didn’t greet customers on their way in, he would make sure to greet them as they headed out.
“He greeted everybody as they came in or when they left,” Wagner said. “There was never a dull moment with Chris. I just enjoyed going in and sitting there, talking with him. I think I talked more than I ate. I enjoyed coming in over the last 20-some years, and I’m going to miss all of them. It’s going to be a big change.”