RED BANK, TN. (WRCB) - The economy has been hard on small businesses in recent years. Just last month, the owner of Red Bank staple Southern Restaurant was forced to close the doors after more than four decades. But one determined waitress is out to prove hometown businesses can and should survive.
Exactly one month since Southern Restaurant closed, one of its 26-year-long waitresses is taking it on herself and plans to re-open Saturday. She says it just means too much to the Red Bank community to disappear.
"Oh my heart is with it. I love it," new Southern Restaurant owner Kim Hankins says.
Like many in Red Bank, Southern Restaurant has been a big part of Kim Hankins' life. She worked her way through school waitressing there and even after graduating and starting a separate career, she kept working weekends for fun.
"I love the people, love the customers, love the employees and I love the original owners, they're like my family," Hankins says.
News of the closure was an emotional blow to her and her faithful customers who've counted on it as the community meeting place for decades.
"I hated to hear it. I don't know where I'm going to go now," customer Dean Minton says.
"It's a horrible loss to the whole community," customer Cecil Linnie Perkins says.
And the staff, who were suddenly unsure of their futures.
"I got a family I need to take care of, and I was wondering how I was going to take care of them," cook, Antoine Taylor says.
So Kim got a loan and bought it herself.
"I started the ball rolling as soon as I knew it was going to close and I worked very hard and all my employees have worked very hard to get it back open," Hankins says.
"Me and my wife, we got home and gave each other big hugs, like yes we're back in," Taylor says.
They're back where they never want to leave. A few more touches, and Saturday the sign will read "Open."
"Finishing up the kitchen today. We've painted, cleaned and got all our food in today," Hankins says.
"Every day we've been here, they've been stopping by asking when you opening," longtime waitress, Irene Hankins says.
It's a much anticipated return to the community that they hope keeps the money and the conversations coming in.
"It's going to be the happiest day of our lives," Irene Hankins says.
Channel 3 talked to customers who've eaten at Southern Restaurant since it opened 43 years ago, some of them up to three meals a day.
Most of the current staff has worked at Southern Restaurant for 20 and 30 plus years.
All of them will be returning to work as it re-opens Saturday at 6 a.m.