Jon Dawson: A love letter to K&W Cafeterias

By Jon Dawson

The past year has been tough on restaurants. We’re blessed in this area with restaurants that are respected institutions that are strong enough to weather just about any storm (see the top of this page for a prime example). While many of our local eateries have survived, others throughout the region have not fared as well.

Tax Deductions engaged in epic hushpuppy duel at King’s Restaurant in Kinston.

According to an article written by Richard Craver for the Hickory Daily Record, there’s a bankruptcy afoot for K&W Cafeterias. While some locations may remain open for now, it’s not looking good for the beloved restaurant chain.

When I was a kid I remember piling into my grandparent’s brown 1978 Chevrolet Impala to visit family in Raleigh. Every time we drove by the prison around the halfway point of the trip my grandma would point to it and remind me that’s where I’d end up if I wasn’t a good boy. I was so square I made Opie Taylor look like John Dillenger, but I received the same warning on every trip nonetheless.

After arriving in Raleigh, we’d always eat at the K&W Cafeteria. The fried chicken was quite tasty, but it was the oddest cut I’d ever seen. It was a chicken breast with the wings still attached. At first, based on the size of the bird I thought they’d slipped me an ostrich. Mind you I didn’t care, but it was always too big to finish. I did my best, but the plate usually looked like a crime scene by the end of the meal.

Eventually, those childhood trips to the K&W in Raleigh became a fuzzy memory in the rearview mirror. When I morphed into a teenager with a driver’s license the closest I came to a K&W was walking past the entrance on the way to Luca’s Pizza. I’d see families piling into the K&W as if Julia Child was manning the roast beef carving station. Around 25 years passed before I’d return to the land of the large-enough-for-a-saddle pieces of chicken.

The Bryan Hanks Show airs on 960-AM in Kinston, and daily at 7 a.m. & 3 p.m. It also airs on the suite of stations in New Bern and Greenville (107.5-FM) at 6 p.m.

Fast forward to a few years ago and I’m out of town with my own family – The Wife, Tax Deduction #1, and Tax Deduction #2. I asked everyone where they’d like to eat, and to my surprise, the overwhelming winner was the K&W. As it turns out, when The Wife and TDs are running errands in this particular town, they love eating at K&W.

Heading back down that cafeteria line brought back so many memories, not least of which was that delicious fried ostrich/chicken. The ever-reliable gargantuan pan of macaroni and cheese was still there, as was the fruited Jell-O. At this particular K&W there was a man who’d worked there seemingly since the day the oven was installed. I was told by my family that we needed to sit in his section because he was such a nice guy. 

Tax Deduction #2 gives her opinion of the shingle selection at Blizzard Building Supply in Kinston.

As a bonus, the K&W was the place where I learned TD#1 was as off-kilter as her old man. After noticing that a couple of pieces of art hanging on the wall were crooked, she had to intervene. Please see the video below for evidence:

Tax Deduction #1 suffers for her art at the K&W Cafeteria.

K&W exuded a simple, old-school charm without a drop of pretension. I enjoy the occasional night on the town at a fancy restaurant as much as the next person, but people didn’t go to K&W looking for a dining adventure. You knew exactly how everything was going to taste before you got there. You knew somebody would come to the table and top off your tea, and you knew the woman at the cash register was going to refer to you as either “shug”, “baby” or “sweetie”. 

Editor’s Note: The judges would have also accepted “honey”.

When the world is as crazy as it has been lately, a little consistency goes a long way. Here’s hoping the world will let the K&W return someday.

CLICK HERE to purchase Jon Dawson’s books.

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