KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – A line of customers pushed toward the door as lunch hour crashed over L.E. Clark’s Grocery & Deli Tuesday afternoon.
Owner Scott Cleek manned the cash register, taking order after order of Big Hack burgers, turkey club sandwiches and soup beans.
Once an item ran out, another employee crossed it off the menu for good. After eight decades of business, the restaurant will close its doors next week as its third-generation owner hangs up his apron in retirement.
The restaurant began as a grocery store opened by Cleek’s grandfather in the 1930s. Cleek’s duties began when he was 6 years old – he remembers pumping gas for 19 cents a gallon.
Over the decades, the grocery store slowly gave way to a restaurant. Nowadays, the only remnant of a grocery store the business kept was in its name.
“It’s named L.E., that was my grandmother’s name,” Cleek recalled. “We got a bill from Kingsport grocery where (my grandfather) bought groceries from 1931.”
Customers filled the restaurant for lunch in a tide Cleek said hasn’t stopped since he announced the restaurant’s closure.
Vickie Bledsoe and her coworkers sat at one of the larger tables to celebrate a friend’s birthday over lunch.
“It makes me sad they’re leaving because it’s been a part of this area, a part of Kingsport, and Eastman employees love it here,” she said. “They’re always friendly and they always treat you really good.”
Another patron, Phillip Almany, has been coming to the restaurant for the past 40 years. His favorite menu item is the Big Hack burger, but he decided to enjoy a chipped ham sandwich one last time.
“It’s part of the community, so we’ll miss that big time,” he said. “Scott’s a school buddy from way back, so we’ll miss him.”
The last day of business for the restaurant will be May 8. Cleek said he and employees will be handing out free hot dogs on May 9 for one last customer appreciation day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“It’s just been a lot,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people that worked for us, a lot of good people we’ve met and made friends with, a lot of lifelong friends.”
News Channel 11 has confirmed L.E. Clark’s Grocery & Deli in Sullivan Gardens will close in May.
According to a statement on the store’s website, they will remain open through the end of the day on May 8th and will hold a retirement/customer appreciation event on Thursday, May 9th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
L.E. Clark’s Grocery & Deli is a third generation owned family business that, according to their website, dates back to the 1930s.
The full statement about the closing of the store is below
After careful, dutiful, and heart felt consideration, we are announcing the retirement of Scott Cleek and the closure of L.E. Clark’s Grocery & Deli. Scott, being the 3rd generation in this family business, has faithfully continued his family’s legacy and has now elected to begin retirement and the next phase of his life.
We will remain open for our regular hours through Wednesday, May 8. From now until then, we will continue to offer our regular menu until our stock dwindles. However, we will not be offering a special of the day for the month of May. What this will mean to you is that when a particular item is out of stock it will no longer be available. But please ask for your favorite, and if it is still available and we will gladly make it for you. If stock depletes of some, or most, items, please rest assured that we will continue to offer our hamburgers, hotdogs, and fries until our doors close permanently. This will pay homage to the items we offered when we began our kitchen so many years ago.
We are holding a Retirement / Customer Appreciation Event with free hotdogs and drinks on Thursday, May 9, 10am – 2pm for anyone who wishes to spend a bit of time with us as we begin this next chapter of our lives.
Thank you for your friendship and loyalty for over 8 decades!
Scott, Tracey and Lucy Cleek. And the entire Cleek / Clark families.”