Henry’s Restaurant has changed hands only two times in 64 years.
Once, in 1985 when Chester Bennett bought it from founders Henry and Miriam Summerford.
And again, last December, when Chester’s son Brent Bennett and his long-time girlfriend, Bobbie Gaul, took over.
Love at first bite
When Gaul met Bennett for their first lunch date at Henry’s Restaurant, she had no idea she would eventually be running the restaurant by his side.
Gaul and Bennett met at Hollywood Casino in Columbus. She was a high-risk blackjack dealer and he was there to test his odds. After several more visits to her table and a “ton of money” gambled, Gaul agreed to a date with the West Jefferson native.
Bennett’s father, Chester, owned Henry’s at the time.
“I fell in love with the place as soon as I walked in,” Gaul said.
For her lunch that day, she ordered one piece of every pie they had.
“She likes me because of my apple pie,” Bennett joked.
Hot-shots and pie since 1953
The Summerfords opened the restaurant in 1953. Henry ran “Henry’s Sohio Fuel Station” on one side and on the other, Miriam ran a restaurant.
By the time Chester bought the business in ’85, the fuel station side had shut down. Chester ran the restaurant for nearly 31 years, right up until last month, when his son, Brent Bennett, took over.
Bennett, who was a toddler when his dad purchased the place, said he has always been around the restaurant.
“I grew up in here with him,” he said.
When Chester grew tired of running the place, it seemed natural that his son take over, just like a “changing of the guard,” according to Bennett.
Bennett and Gaul, now together around over four years, took on the job as a couple.
Gaul left her job at the casino, where she had worked her way from Blackjack dealer to head of operations, in September to help. She spent six weeks learning the recipes and how to cook and after that, helped with the refurbishment.
“I wouldn’t go back even if I was given the option to,” she said.
A new year and a new era
The couple spent the holidays refreshing the inside of the aged diner, even ringing in the new year between coats of paint.
A lot of work has been done already: a new drop ceiling has been installed, fresh coats of paint cover the bathroom and dining room and the bar has been refurbished, complete with new stools.
But the two aren’t done yet.
New windows, booths and a much-needed system to accept credit and debit cards are all on the way.
In the spring, Bennett hopes to completely restore the exterior of the building, including a repaved parking lot and functioning, restored sign.
“We don’t want to lose the nostalgia of the place,” Bennett said, emphasizing that they weren’t remodeling the place but rather “refreshing” it.
But aesthetics aren’t the only thing being mixed up.
Gaul has brought four new pie flavors to the menu: coconut pineapple, red raspberry, blueberry and mixed berry.
Breakfast will now be served Tuesday through Sunday, rather than just Saturdays like before.
Sweet tea is now on the menu and an emphasis is being put on using fresh ingredients rather than frozen.
“It’s the little things that add up,” Bennett said.
They reopened their doors on Tuesday and it seems that the changes are already being well received. The parking lot has been packed, something Bennett said he hasn’t seen for at least 10 years.
If things continue to go well, he hopes to one day expand and turn the auto shop side of the building into a dining area.
“It just makes my heart swell,” said Gaul. “I just love this place.”
Reach Erin Thompson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615.