Valley News – Bottom Line: The Shyrl in Shyrl’s Diner marks milestone anniversary

On the second Sunday in October, Kaleigh Wagar told her grandmother, Shyrl Rafus, owner of Shyrl’s Diner, that they were going to pick apples to celebrate Rafus’ 75th birthday. But first, they had to go through the restaurant on Main Street in western Lebanon because Wagar had left his phone there.

As they pulled up, Rafus saw through the windows that the restaurant was packed with customers – which she said was a bit odd considering it was past 2pm closing time.

“I open the door and everyone says, ‘Happy birthday!’ I thought I was going to pick apples, ”Rafus said last week over breakfast in her restaurant, the counter still cluttered with vases of flowers and a bunch of balloons strapped to the refrigerator behind her. “I had no idea.”

The event, which attracted 175 friends, clients and family, was hosted by Wagar via a “secret Facebook page” she created as an invitation to honor her grandmother and the family matriarch whose dinner – if you count Wagar’s 9-year-old son who enjoys handing out menus to new arrivals from his perch at the counter – now involves four generations of Rafus’ family.

For the most part, Shyrl’s, where Rafus’ daughter Debra also works in addition to two granddaughters, is a business run by women. And it has almost always been so since 2005, according to Rafus, when she opened Shyrl’s after helping her niece run the old Crossroads Cafe in White River Junction.

“When I started, my ex-husband told me I was going to close my doors in six months,” Rafus said.

“When that didn’t happen he decided it was time to move on,” she said before smiling. “Good, whatever.”

Shyrl’s serves around 300 customers a day – the first arriving shortly after Rafus arrives at work at 3 a.m. for the baking and prep work of the day, although the restaurant does not officially open until 5 a.m. She usually works until closing at 2 a.m. pm six days a week (the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays) and there is another 30 minutes to an hour for cleaning.

Bedtime for Rafus is 6 p.m. sharp as she wakes up at 2:30 a.m., she said.

“She opens and closes the premises,” said stunned long-time customer Stacey Thomson who runs an Orford-based lumber, trucking and excavation company, calling her “an amazing person who feeds a lot of mouths.” .

Thomson is typical among Shyrl customers, who tend to be retirees or workers and business owners in the “dirty work” trades who come for the restaurant’s simple menu – burgers, omelets, sandwiches, homemade soups. and baked pies – and return price (most items cost $ 4 to $ 7; the most expensive is a plate of scallops which will set you back $ 10).

“Everyone tells me I should increase my prices,” Rafus said, but many of his clients are fixed-income retirees or hourly workers who “can’t buy a $ 30 lunch.”

“I am here to make a living and pay my bills. I’m not here to be a millionaire, ”she said.

At 75, Rafus said she was not thinking about retirement.

“I’m just going to keep hooking up. I live alone, so I have to keep working. I love to eat. I like the finer things in life. And social security does not cover it, ”she explained.

Rafus’ day is filled with a rapid fire of his hallmarks of “Hi, honey” and “Good bye, honey” as customers come and go, often at the same people just a few hours apart.

“A lot of them come at breakfast time and then come back at lunch time,” said Rafus, who estimates “about 75% of my customers are regulars.”

Shyrl’s may even be a kind of economic engine for the northern end of western Lebanon, drawing people to the main street lined with small shops and businesses that depend on walk-in shoppers.

“On Tuesday when we are closed Main Street is dead,” Rafus said. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that.

Contact John Lippman at [email protected]

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