Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Eating Their Profits Longtime Customers Become Restaurant Owners

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Eating Their Profits Longtime Customers Become Restaurant Owners

Article excerpt

Put your money where your mouth is.

Regular customers at the White Lantern Restaurant did exactly that when they heard the popular gathering spot in Marissa would be shut down.

"The minute they said it would close, we thought, `What a catastrophe' ," said Jackie Lambert, who eats supper there nearly every day with her husband, Don. So 33 regulars put their heads together - and their money - to form a corporation that bought the restaurant. "It probably will make money, but we didn't do it for that reason," said Don Lambert, president of the newly formed White Lantern Corp. and a retired real estate broker. "If it makes money, fine. If not, that's fine too, as long as we keep it open." The White Lantern is one of three restaurants in Marissa, a town of 2,600 about 45 miles southeast of St. Louis. It has been open for about 27 years, the last 14 in a red-brick building shared with a pharmacy and the IGA. Two white lanterns flank the front door. Inside, lanterns and large photographs of local sports teams line the dark-paneled walls. Customers sit in booths or at tables topped with vases of silk flowers. Big round tables accommodate as many as 11 diners at once. On any given day, customers stream in for the breakfast special, the juicy hamburgers, the fruit pies and the evening smorgasbord. The fried chicken is "the best in the country," claims Elsie Matzenbacher. But even more important, people come to share news and jokes over coffee. "It's a good place to start the day," said Robert Canfield, a retired engineer, as he finished breakfast. Starting at 6 a.m., men hold court at a round table and surrounding booths. "You can pick up on local gossip," Canfield said. "If the fire whistle blew in the night, you can find out where the fire was." Bob Benedict, a retired coal miner, added, "The country would go to pot for sure if we weren't here to solve the world's problems." By 8 a.m., the men are gone and the women take over with talk of children, grandchildren, yard sales, who's sick and who had a baby. Ruth Erb, a retired teacher, may entertain with quick quips and German folk songs on the harmonica. The ladies may sell tickets to each other for a quilt raffle or a pancake dinner at church. …

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