Walking into Thelma’s Restaurant takes you into the heart of what makes Barbourville such a special place to live; a place where you may have to leave to find work, but you always seem to find your way back home to.
The food is not “dug into with unwashed hands,” as is common in the buffet-style restaurants that are too numerous to count in Southeastern Kentucky. At Thelma’s, Alice, a server who’s been working for Thelma since 1985, gently places your selection on your plate the way a mother would serve her own children. Every delicious meal was like a Sunday meal at Grandma’s. No one was surprised when Mr. Wendell Hinkle (a frequent customer) would go behind the counter to retrieve the coffee pot and go from table to table giving warm-ups.
“We are devastated,” said Mrs. Ethel Stark, sitting with a group of lovely ladies whose laughter would frequently break through the conversations being held throughout the restaurant. Their frequent meetings at the restaurant seem to allow them to step back in time and away from the responsibilities and expectations that grandma-ism requires.
“My workers and customers have become like family to me,” Ms. Thelma Gibson said, fighting back the tears that were swelling up in her eyes. “Ted (Thelma’s late husband) died in 2009, and I couldn’t have held out this long without the help of my staff and dedication of my customers.”
A call to Mr. Wiley Brown provided a history of the restaurant. Ted and Thelma Gibson bought the restaurant, located in Dog Town, in the early 1970’s. The name, D&W, was derived from the original owners, Dorcus and Wilma Goins. The purchase of the restaurant also included the original recipes that had made the restaurant so popular.
Under the ownership of Ted and Thelma, the restaurant expanded with locations in Corbin, London and Middlesboro, Ky. The restaurant also catered meals to over 1,200 senior citizens for the Meals on Wheels program. “We had lots of energy and ambition back then and some wonderful employees such as the late James Coffee and Ms. Jessie Cole,” Ms. Thelma said.
Mrs. Mary Woolum, the bookkeeper and dishwasher for Thelma’s, stated they currently have five full-time and one part-time employee.
Thelma’s Restaurant served its final meal February 28, 2018. Oasis Pizza will be closing their doors at their current location, and will pack up and move to the building Thelma’s currently occupies.
Best wishes to Ms. Thelma in her retirement.