ATHENS, TN (WRCB) -
It's a bittersweet Friday in Athens, Tennessee. After nearly 23 years, it's the end of the line for the "Friendly City's" favorite meat and three. The Country Patch is calling it quits.
"We really appreciate y'all," whimpers Debbie Gunn as she pours some more sweet tea for Delano, Tennessee's Joan Sneed.
"We're going to really miss you," says Sneed as she dines with her family.
"We really, love you guys all and thank you very much," retorts Gunn and her husband Jimmy as they make tableside visits for one last final meal at the longtime, family run restaurant.
"It's one of the saddest days in our lives because the people have eaten here have become our family." Debbie & Jimmy Gunn dreaded, yet never dreamed the day their "Mom & Pop" business couldn't survive.
"We just can't stand against the corporate places because we're a small buying power," laments Debbie of their painful but new found financial reality. After rebuilding from the 2010 fire that almost put them out of business, Jimmy says it's the recent economic downturn that's proved even more destructive, like the rising cost of ground chuck.
"It went from $1.67 to $3," says Jimmy of the prohibitive rising food costs.
"And that's just in the last year," interjects Debbie.
"We've set on that front porch over there that we built and talked about the future and things like that and how everything was going to go and it's definitely, definitely hard," says Sweetwater's Micah Phillips, who has flipped burgers and even helped rebuild from the 2010 blaze. But he's not the only extended family "hurting" here with the Country Patch's closure.
"It's sad because this is a small community and we need to help our local businesses," says Delano's Joan Sneed, who says the restaurant has been her father's longtime favorite place to eat.
"Everybody that's been with us knows we love them, appreciate them and I want them to keep eating those vegetables," says Debbie.
"And we wish them the very best and hopefully we'll see them around," smiles Jimmy. The Gunns say they're going to take the next few days off before they figure out their next endeavor and citing their faith, they say when one door closes, another opens. They're awaiting when and where that next door may lead them.