By BRADEN LAMMERS
For generations of Jeffersonville residents, hitting up the local diner meant getting a J-Boy platter at Jerry’s. For others, it was far more than that.
“It was my home, it was our home,” said Bonnie Nifong, a former Jerry’s waitress who worked at the restaurant since 1988.
She stood next to another former Jerry’s waitress, Donna Wariner, both with tears in their eyes early Wednesday morning as the building was being pulled to the ground.
Jerry’s Restaurant was torn down Wednesday, less than six months after a fire claimed the diner’s kitchen and temporarily closed the doors. The fire occurred in March, the same month that Jerry’s celebrated its 50th anniversary in Jeffersonville.
Property owner and Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore said the damage that was done to the building was too much to recover from. And along with former employees and a few onlookers, the Moore family, which has owned the restaurant since the 1960s, watched as it was razed.
Charlie Moore, Mike’s father, went to work for Jerry’s Restaurant in Lexington, Ky., in the late 1950s after being discharged from the Army where he was a cook. He worked there for five years as a manager.
The Jeffersonville store was built in 1963 by John Woehrle and his then-business partner, and Charlie bought out the other owner and partnered with Woehrle later that year. For the next 50 years, the business was in the hands of the Moore family.
“It was good to us,” he said of the restaurant.
“We just have wonderful memories,” said Nancy Moore, Charlie’s wife. “It’s been a wonderful 50 years. We had good employees that were like family. They were good to us, we were good to them.
Some of those employees were actually family.
Nancy said at one point or another all four of the Moores’ children — Mary Alice Marconi, Karen Nedyidek, Chuck Moore and Mike — all worked in the restaurant.
But before the kids were old enough to work at the 10th Street business, Nancy would often load the kids into the station wagon and go to the drive-in where car hops would come out to take orders as a way to be able to see their father.
Mike said it was not uncommon for his dad to work 16 hour days, six-days-a-week. By the 1970s, the restaurant was open 24-hours-a-day. Mike said he thinks that’s part of the reason so many employees stuck around for so long, because his dad was always there working alongside them.
It wasn’t too long before the rest of the family got into the act.
Mike said he started bussing tables at the restaurant when he was about 13. Chuck, his older brother and former Clark County Councilman, said he was close to the same age when he started working at the restaurant.
Chuck added he worked off-and-on at Jerry’s throughout his life, even when Mike owned it, up until he took over as Jeffersonville mayor in 2012.
And when Chuck would act up as a teenager, his dad would literally dish out the punishment, making Chuck wash dishes during third shift.
“They didn’t like it,” Charlie said of his kids working at the restaurant.
But the employees he hired did.
Wariner worked as a waitress at Jerry’s for about 30 years.
“I liked the people,” she said. “It’s just like my home.”
Jerry’s turned into a family operation for Wariner, too. She said her first child was a baby when she started working at the diner in the early 1980s. By the time the restaurant had closed, all three of her children had been employees of Jerry’s.
Wariner and Nifong were not unusual in staying at the restaurant as long as they did.
“Probably half of our employees were with us beyond 15 years,” Mike said. “[My parents] instilled in me — you treat your employees like family and they’ll be loyal back to you. It was a very close bond we had with our employees.”
Mike bought the restaurant in 1995 when his parents retired. He sold the restaurant, but retained the property rights, when he became mayor to Ronnie Monihon, and he handed control over to Mike Shartzer.
A fire in the kitchen occurred in the early morning hours March 21. The estimated the damage was more than $200,000, and the insurance policy that was on the facility was canceled by Shartzer in February.
“I’m going to do everything I can to fix the restaurant up, but without insurance coverage ... it’s going to be difficult,” Mike said at the time.
Wariner and Nifong said they held out hope that the restaurant would reopen. On Wednesday, they reminisced about the people they worked with and about their regular customers.
“We’d be here forever if it was still here,” Nifong said. “We’d stay here forever.”
That’s the legacy Nancy said Jerry’s had on the community.
“I think a lot of people will miss it and I think they formed some good friendships, not only with us, but with other customers,” she said.
Once it was determined that Jerry’s would not reopen, Mike said he took some momentos out of the property.
Photos highlighting Jeffersonville High School basketball, a few of the original booths from the restaurant reupholstered in Jerry’s orange and even the restaurant’s first ad in The Evening News that offered a four-piece fried chicken dinner for 89 cents are now at Mike’s home.
“It may not have a lot of value, but it does to my family and I,” he said.
With Jerry’s gone, the property is likely to become home to another restaurant. Moore said he has reached a deal in principle with Waffle House to purchase part of the property, but the deal has not been finalized.
“We have agreed to terms, but there’s a lot of stipulations,” he said.
Moore said Waffle House has agreed to buy about .6 acres of the 1.1 acres site where Jerry’s use to sit along 10th Street.
The Waffle House off of Indiana Avenue was torn down in July to make way for the new northbound Interstate 65 bridge that is part of the Ohio River Bridges Project.
— Eunice Trotter contributed to this report.