Getting out of the business

January 01, 2001

Getting out of the business

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Bill Knode walked into Betty's Restaurant on German Street Sunday morning, grabbed a paper, got his back scratched by one of the many regulars and talked about how much he will miss Betty Osbourn and the restaurant she has owned and operated since March 17, 1959.

"We've had too much fun for too long," chuckled Knode, who owns the building Osbourn will leave as soon as all the details are worked out on an impending sale. "My preference is to leave everything the way it is. Nobody ever left here with a sour stomach or a sour thing to say."

"It's the kind of place, like Cheers, where everybody knows your name," said Marty Bowen, 49, who lives outside Shepherdstown, eats at Betty's several days a week and helps bus tables and wait on customers.

"This town really, really, really needs a restaurant like Betty's," said Cindy Cook, another regular who lives above the restaurant. "We need a restaurant with good, home-cooked meals, where you can smoke a cigarette, buy a paper. We don't need another fern place."


"I don't think they're going to get one when the new owner takes over," said Jackie Lewis, owner and broker of Greentree Realty next door to Betty's.

Lewis, who is selling the property, said she has a ratified contract with a woman who has restaurant management experience, and is waiting only for amenities such as construction of a second restroom to close the deal.

Lewis said she doesn't want to reveal the new owner's name until the deal is complete, but said she will probably be phased in over the next month learning the operation. The menu will likely stay much the same, but the hours will probably be longer. Breakfast will likely remain the staple of the operation.

"As far as I know, she's keeping the name," Lewis said.

Osbourn worked in the restaurant before buying it in 1959. It was either the College Inn or Byer's Restaurant when she took over - she can't remember which. Neither can her long-time co-worker Elca Frye, who came to work May 30, 1959 - when coffee was a nickel, instead of 50 cents a cup.

"I needed a job, I guess," Osbourn, 71, said of buying the restaurant. Failing eyesight has forced her to sell.

The crowd at Betty's is older now than when she began - the college kids "who would eat here three times a day" replaced by many of the town's movers and shakers, who sit around a big table at the end of the counter gabbing and chewing over the day's events as they gobble their breakfast and gulp their coffee.

She's kept her prices low and her customers loyal.

"This is not like (Washington) D.C., where you have people come and go all the time," she said. "You've got to take care of your regular people."

"I like to come in and read the paper, on Sunday morning especially," said 72-year-old Diane Hoffman of Shepherdstown. "It's totally untrendy. There's not a trendy idea in the whole place." She moved to Shepherdstown 12 years ago from Washington.

"I think the first time I was in Shepherdstown, I came for lunch," Hoffman said." I felt right at home."

Frye said she's sorry to see Betty leave.

"I like it. I like the people,"she said. She's uncertain what she will do next. "I've had offers, but I'm not sure which one I'll take," she said.

Osbourn also doesn't know what she will do without the restaurant that's been at the heart of her life and the community's for more than four decades.

"When we had the peace talks last year, the press hung out here and were always asking us what we thought about things," Bowen said. "They knew this was the heartbeat of Shepherdstown."

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