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Diner In Clifton Serves Up Weekly Food, Fellowship

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File photo of a diner. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

File photo of a diner. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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CLIFTON, S.C. (AP) — One thing is certain about Dolline’s, a small short-order diner in the former textile community of Clifton: If you go in for breakfast on a Wednesday morning, you will leave happier than when you walked in.

“Deep down in your soul,” said Francis Whelchel, 81, “if you don’t feel better after leaving here, there is something bad wrong with you.”

On Wednesday mornings, Dolline’s is much more than a quaint little breakfast spot for country ham, eggs and gravy biscuits. For the past eight years, between 8 and 10 a.m., a group of friends, all older than 50, from throughout Spartanburg County, have packed into the small space to eat, sip coffee, have fellowship and sing old gospel songs and hymns.

“It’s a great way to start the day,” said Polly Wilkins, 89. “We all just love music.”

Wilkins said she and a group of friends began meeting for breakfast each Wednesday morning about 13 years ago. At the time, it was just 10 people, and they originally met at Hardee’s in Cowpens. Now, about 20 or more people show up each week at Dolline’s.

“It has just grown a lot” over the years, she said.

On a recent Wednesday, Wilkins, Sammy Adair, Charles Stavely and three others strum guitars. Gordon Cooper picks the banjo. The rest hold hymn books and sing along on songs such as “Amazing Grace,” ”I Saw the Light” and “What a Day That Will Be.”

They gather around a sign on the wall that reads, fittingly: “Good Food … Good Friends … Good Times.”

“This is like a family,” Henry Sparrow said during a song. He attends Central United Methodist Church in Spartanburg on Sundays, but never misses a Wednesday morning at Dolline’s, after being invited by a friend four years ago.

“When someone in the group is sick, we send them a card,” he added, as the group around him continued to sing.

When a song ends, the group make jokes, laugh and everyone’s face forms a smile. Then Sparrow shouts out the next song from the corner of the room. The music, led by Adair, starts up again.

Outside Dolline’s, the music can be heard from the parking lot, and passers-by might assume it’s coming from the church across the street — until they step inside.

“This is like church, without the preaching,” said owner Dolline Inman, 70, who opened the restaurant 18 years ago.

One week, Inman said she grew concerned because the group, whom she describes as her friends, didn’t arrive at the usual time.

“They were running a bit late, and I was afraid they had stopped coming,” she said.

But sure enough, the guitar- and hymnal-carrying gospel singers eventually arrived and occupied the back section of the dining area, just like every Wednesday.

It’s the restaurant’s personal setting, Inman says, that makes Dolline’s the perfect place for something like this.

The group also chose Dolline’s because a lot of the people who attend each week are originally from the Clifton area.

“This is like home,” Sparrow said. “And the people in the group are great people to be around.”

As the music played, Audrey Frady enjoyed breakfast at a nearby table. She came to the restaurant just to eat, not knowing there would be a group singing.

“It’s fine,” she said. “And they seem to be enjoying it.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

 

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