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It’s been Betty’s for 50 years

By Staff | Feb 13, 2009

Server Jane Tennant, Manager Heather Renaud, center, and line cook Sharon Hamilton share a laugh at Betty’s. Photo by Daniel Friend

Regina Wines and Heather Renaud have some recession-proof offers in the coming week to celebrate their eight successful years in business at Betty’s Restaurant, the landmark local eatery at 112 E. German St.

A free coffee day, cake and drawings for free meals are in the works for the week of Feb. 16.

“Because of the recession, we want to draw people in,” Renaud says.

She manages the restaurant that her mother Regina Wines purchased in 2001 from Betty Osbourn, who ran the business for 42 years, most of them with longtime server Elca Frye, who still lives in Shepherdstown. Osbourn died several years ago.

“Betty was a legacy … without a doubt,” Renaud says.

It’s still a comfortable, come-as-you-are breakfast and lunch spot where the regulars – Dickie Brown, Denny Crosby, Ernest Fuss, Jack Geary, Bill Knode, to name a few – can feel at home.

“Everyone has their own table, and they like things a certain way, and we just know,” Renaud says. “We spoil our people here. We try to accommodate them the best we can.”

Longtime customer Michael Athey was seated in his favorite booth Tuesday, near the spot where he says the nickel jukebox sat back in the days when it was Byer’s Restaurant, before Osbourn took over 50 years ago.

Athey recalls in the mid-1950s Shepherdstown High School students made Byer’s and, later, Betty’s their official hangout.

“We rarely ate here,” he says. “We’d get a nickel bottle of soda and sit here for two hours.” On the occasion the teenagers did place an order, it was for a couple orders of 25-cent fries, placed in the middle of the table for all to share.

Athey said there was also a pinball machine where the new ATM is. Players could win money if they racked up enough points. Winners cashed in at the register. Athey doubts if it was legal – the machine was supposed pay off in free games, he says.

Little has changed at the restaurant, whose roughly 13-by-13-foot kitchen turns out breakfast all day, including the popular biscuits smothered in sausage and chipped beef gravies made from Wines’ own recipes.

“That’s comfort food,” Renaud says, noting that for under $5 customers can still get a hearty, sit-down breakfast at Betty’s

One of the notable lunch items is the famous Rumsey Burger – a double-decker “signature cheeseburger” with lettuce, tomato and Thousand Island dressing.

“It was in the New York Times,” Renaud says. “It hit the New York Times – I’m not kidding you!” She recalls the day the reporter came to town and ordered the hulking sandwich. When it arrived at the table, he declared “this is going in the paper” and took its picture.

“I’m gonna say it probably stands about five inches high,” Renaud adds, measuring with her hand held up over a paper place mat. The Rumsey is a favorite with the Rumseian Society (of course), which holds its meetings in the restaurant. The group keeps alive Shepherdstown steamboat inventor James Rumsey’s legacy, educating the public about his life and work.

The restaurant also serves as a newsstand, offering several national and local newspapers on the rack just inside the entrance.

Under Renaud and Wines’ direction, there are now separate restrooms for men and women. And the fully equipped Betty’s On the Go catering truck has been serving food at construction sites and special events for six years.

At 112 E. German St., people come and go, many just to grab their favorite daily paper and give a wave to the staff. Others, like Athey, have been coming to eat and talk with friends for more than 50 years.

Renaud remembers her first day at Betty’s eight years ago.

“It was Mom and I,” she says. “She did the cooking, and I was out here (serving).”

For the first winter since taking over the restaurant, Renaud started closing at 2 p.m. on weekdays. But she has a hunch that when the weather breaks, Betty’s will be busy again, perhaps busier than in previous years because it offers low-cost, homestyle comfort food that people on a budget can afford. She plans to keep the restaurant open late on Fridays and Saturdays beginning in March.

“We’re all feeling it,” Renaud says of the worst economic recession to hit the United States since the Great Depression. “And we’re gonna hold our head up and get through this recession.”