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After 50 years, diner owner has no plans to quit

February 15, 1999

Ernie EichelbergerBy DAN KULIN / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Three weeks after losing his job at a downtown Hagerstown diner, Ernie Eichelberger opened his own diner-style restaurant.

That was 50 years ago and he's been cooking ever since.

Ernie & Kitty's Restaurant opened on the corner of Potomac and Baltimore streets on Feb. 17, 1949. Since then, people have sipped coffee at the counter or traded jokes and the news of the day from the white and chrome tables.

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Eichelberger, 78, says good food and hard work have been the secrets to his success.

The food is mostly breakfast fare. The menu, displayed on a cardboard sign over the counter, lists home fries and eggs for $1.85, and bacon, hotcakes and eggs for $2.45. Ham and eggs, at $2.85, is the most expensive item on the menu.

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"Some people go overboard with their prices," said Eichelberger.

His customers agree, but they say that in addition to the food and the prices, it's the atmosphere that keeps them coming back.

"It's just good old-fashioned food, and it's a good relaxing place to go," said Harry Sterling, a regular noontime customer who has pictures of his son on top of an old radio on the corner table.

"We've met people here who are now our friends," added Sterling, who often dines with his wife.

Outside the small restaurant things have changed a lot over the years, many buildings and people have come and gone, Eichelberger said.

But inside, the restaurant has the look and feel of a 1950s small-town diner or coffee shop.

Before Eichelberger's wife died in 1994, he spent most of his time cooking while she dealt with the customers.

Since then, he's cut back on the restaurant's hours. He once stayed open until 8:30 p.m., but these days Eichelberger closes the doors at 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Other than a little part-time help, Eichelberger does it all and has no intention of slowing down.

Even during the two weeks of vacation he takes in August, Eichelberger can be found at the restaurant cleaning and doing other odd jobs.

"There's a lot of work here even when you're closed," he said.

Eichelberger said that although he's sure he'll have to retire sometime, it's not something he thinks about.

"I have nothing else to do, no hobbies," said Eichelberger.

"It's a living and that's what I like about it. And so long as I have my health I'll stay here."

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