Edna’s #1 Drive-In, the iconic dining establishment at the corner of River and Sunset drives, is closing Thursday after 54 years.
But, even as we observe that burger-and-fry joint’s departure, it should be noted there are other Columbia-area restaurants that have been in business for 30 years or more.
Here’s what owners and longtime customers say about what makes them special.
Drake’s Duck-In, Established 1907
“This place — and Edna’s — is ... something,” says Victoria Browman.
Browman and her mother, Elaine Smith, are having lunch in one of the booth’s at Drake’s Duck-In on Main Street.
“When we were young, my cousins and I would scrape up change to come to Drake’s. It made our day to catch a bus downtown. This is history.”
Smith remembers when banana pudding was on the dessert menu. “That banana pudding,” she says, smiling, “and they have the best cole slaw.”
While Drake’s Duck-In has been operating at various downtown locations since 1907, the restaurant has been at its current location — 1544 Main St. — for the past 20 years.
Edwina “Tiny” Harmon has been at Drake’s for 21 years. She started as a cashier under former owner Steve Rowland, working for Rowland until she married and family obligations took her out of state for six years.
Arriving back in South Carolina in 1997, Harmon picked up the phone and called Rowland about returning to a job at Drake’s. She has been there ever since. Rowland made her the manager of Drake’s in 2001.
Not much has changed over the years, says Harmon. “We keep a good product, sell a good product and keep customers happy. The chicken is fresh and local, and never frozen. We get orders delivered every other day.”
Asked about the restaurant’s success, Harmon says, “You have to form a relationship with your employees, listen to each other, know how to act and treat each other with respect and trust.
“You can’t run a restaurant without employees. They are like family. You need to do the right thing and treat customers first. You need that trust.”
About those customers: “I’d say that 99% are regulars,” says Harmon. “We get family groups of sightseers, people in for USC games. We can see the regulars coming in from the kitchen and start their orders.”
Matthew Bridges walks in before the lunch rush begins. Watching the rejuvenation along Main Street and in the Vista, Bridges and business partner Daniel Boan were looking for an opportunity for ownership along Main Street.
With its diverse clientele and history, Drake’s was “something we couldn’t pass up,” Bridges says. When Rowland sold the business to the two men in 2015, they trusted Harmon to stay on and manage the place.
Bridges and Boan don’t plan on any changes in the food or service but are looking at small things here and there. Bridges says they are looking into extending the evening hours, maybe renovating the upstairs space.
Back in the dining area, Browman, now herself a mother of grown children, continues the family tradition of shopping on Main Street and lunch at Drake’s. “That’s all I know, my kids know. The chicken and cheeseburgers. The burgers remind me of my grandmother’s. They taste homemade. Everything else (from childhood) is gone, but Drake’s remains.”