BUCKHANNON – Before the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, the term ‘diner’ brought to mind a cute, cozy restaurant where folks sit down to gather and enjoy a home-cooked meal.
And for most places, the stay-at-home order – now the safer-at-home order – understandably affected their daily servings to the public.
But Country Time Cooking owners and staff utilized forward-thinking when the pandemic hit and have managed to not only increase their business levels but also add additional staff members to their diner family.
My Buckhannon recently visited Country Time Cooking, located at 1024 Old Elkins Road, just up from Woody’s Bowling Center in Buckhannon and found their pick-up window and delivery staff busy. Their cooks were frying eggs, while pots bubbled on the stove and ovens were full of hot rolls, freshly made cupcakes and homemade pepperoni rolls.
Owner Rhonda Ringer said she has owned Country Time Cooking for seven years, but the restaurant has been in its current location since the 1970s and has been a Buckhannon staple all those years.
Her son, Adam Ringer, said just because folks cannot come in and sit down does not meant they are not still craving a homecooked meal.
“We changed things around and offered our home cooking through a pick-up window or home deliveries,” he said. “Everybody in our restaurant is just like family. To keep people happy, we had to adapt to make sure they could get the food they enjoy.”
Adam Ringer said their customers have always been big fans of comfort food.
“One of the major things we have been selling is pepperoni rolls,” he said. “Then we started with ham rolls and steak rolls – these are easy for people to eat and warm up. We do our normal items like baked steak as well, which is another comfort food favorite.”
He said Country Time Cooking now offers pepperoni rolls all the time for folks to enjoy, and they’ve also added a lot of sweet treats to their menu.
“When people are sitting at home, they are craving sweets,” he said, “so, we added more desserts like baked goods. We serve breakfast all day including eggs any way you want them, plus good portions of meat and ham.”
Rhonda Ringer said one of the most popular dishes among their regulars these days is biscuits and gravy – especially tomato gravy.
“Roxanne makes sausage gravy that is wonderful as well as tomato gravy – people absolutely love that. I do not think there is any place else you can get the tomato gravy,” she said. “Biscuits and tomato gravy are another old-time meal that folks are craving.”
Other big selling meals at Country Time Cooking are baked steak and hamburger steak.
“We have sold more pepperoni rolls than anything else,” Adam Ringer said. “We have really advertised those to let people know we are selling them. People have been buying them and ordering more.”
Adam Ringer said since the pandemic began, they have added a few new staff members.
“We had to add staff to help out at the take-out window,” he said. “We have added delivery people and added a second phone line to keep up with the demand. We hired some new bakery people, and they are baking all the time.”
At this time, folks can order from Country Time Cooking by coming to their window and placing orders or by calling their orders in at 304-472-0068.
“We have taken some orders on our Facebook page,” said Cristy Lloyd, Country Time Cooking employee. “If businesses have a large order, it makes it convenient to be able to see what they want.”
Speaking of business orders, Lloyd said they offer an $8 menu for lunch and dinner where folks can have their choice of items like a pepperoni roll, BLT, burger, fish sandwich or hot dog with their choice of fries, coleslaw, applesauce, cottage cheese and more. The $8 menu also contains salads and breakfast choices as well.
Along with their Facebook page, Adam Ringer said they are on Twitter (Countrytime_WV) and Instagram (Countrytime_WV), so they can reach more people.
“We think doing more social media advertising increased the volume of people we could reach and get the word out about our business,” he said. “It helped provide a few more jobs for people in the Buckhannon area and helped people get the foods they were craving.”
Adam Ringer said they offer delivery if the locale is within a reasonable distance.
“Smaller orders are a little harder to deliver,” he said. “We have actually shipped food out of state during this time as well. Most of those ordering used to live in West Virginia and really wanted some good home cooking. One lady called from Florida the other day and ordered food to be delivered to her parents who live in Buckhannon.”
Along with offering great foods people want and making it easy to pick up foods and have foods delivered, Adam Ringer said their success can be attributed to one thing.
“We truly believe it is the good Lord,” he said. “He blesses us and takes care of us and the more we help and try to do what He wants us to do, the more truly blessed we are. That is truly what we believe.”
Another advantage Countrytime Cooking offers is ample parking room for 18-wheelers, something a lot of restaurants cannot offer for those traveling cross-country.
Adam and Rhonda Ringer said they feel the changes they have made during the pandemic are decisions they would have eventually implemented regardless.
“It was coming, and this forced our hands to do it sooner,” Adam Ringer said. “We will continue to have our window and have plans that will make it easier for our customers. Maybe we will add on to the restaurant and have a drive-thru window where we can just hand their food out to them and they won’t need to leave their vehicle to pick up food.”
Seven years ago, when Rhonda Ringer bought Country Time Cooking she was new to the restaurant business.
“I worked in the school system, but I was new to the business,” she said. “Everyone who works here is family. We really appreciate everyone who has been supporting us.”
Rhonda’s husband, Paul, said the restaurant has been there for 50 years.
“It’s my wish and my wife’s desire that it stays here another 50 years,” he said.
Another future goal is to add a permanent bakery to Country Time Cooking.
“My cousin, Ashley Ringer, bakes for us now,” he said. “She likes to make cupcakes, cakes and pastries. We have been talking about adding that on. We make all kinds of cookies including cornflake chews, no-bake cookies and peanut butter no-bake cookies. We make pies, cakes and icing.”
Another aspect Country Time Cooking notes for their success is the business is family owned and operated – with the oldest and youngest sons, mom, dad, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
“Even those who are not blood-related are our family,” Lloyd said.
Hours at the Country Time Cooking Diner are weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and they are open until 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. They are closed on Saturday and Sunday to allow staff members to spend time with their families. Follow their Facebook page for daily specials or visit their website online here.