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Despite recession, Anne & Bill's thrives
Restaurant a staple of Forest Park community for 35 years

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

While many businesses and restaurants in metro Atlanta have had to adjust to the recession, one restaurant in Forest Park is thriving by doing the same thing it has done for 35 years.

Anne & Bill's Restaurant, located at 1057 Main Street in Forest Park, has stood the test of time as one of Forest Park's most popular breakfast and lunch spots. While the restaurant has moved several times since opening in 1974, Kathy Chafin, owner and president, said the restaurant has maintained its customer base with comfort food, good service, and by giving back to the community.

"We hardly ever advertise," said Chafin, one of the daughters of Anne and Bill Kirkham, the founders of the restaurant. "It's just word of mouth. Everything [served at the restaurant] is homemade and it is made with love. We have a lot of faithful customers that come here twice a day."

The restaurant serves a wide array of traditional southern breakfast and lunch dishes, including grits, country-fried steak, salmon patties, omelets, burgers, hot-dogs, sandwiches, homemade ice-cream, and a variety of desserts and pies. Chafin said that on any given day, the restaurant's clientele represents a cross section of the Forest Park community.

"We cater to a lot of business people throughout the day," Chafin said. "We give a discount to cops, firemen, military and seniors every day. There are lot of political faces here. I was on jury duty once and they threw me out because I know all the judges that come here."

Bill Kirkham, 86, the founder and original owner of the restaurant, opened the restaurant with his wife, Anne, in 1974. Prior to starting the restaurant, Kirkham was a mess sergeant with the U.S. Army, known for his famous hot-dogs.

After leaving the Army in the mid-to-late 1940s, Kirkham took a job at the Carling Brewery Company in Hapeville. When the company folded in the early 1970s, Kirkham used the proceeds from his severance package to buy Harbins Restaurant on Old Dixie Highway and make it the location of the first Anne & Bill's Restaurant.

"It keeps me busy," said Kirkham. "We were busy the first day we opened. They really whopped us."

Martha Biby, who worked for Anne & Bill's as a waitress for 10 years, said one of the things that has generated a following for the restaurant is its commitment to seniors and the homeless.

"Most of the people in here are like family," said Biby. "A lot of seniors who come in here, if they run low on their money at the end of the month, he [Kirkham] would feed them for free. There are a lot of homeless people in Forest Park and we feed a lot of them too."

Chafin said that several years ago, the restaurant teamed up with Forest Park First Baptist Church, at 634 Main Street, to combat hunger in the community. Since then, the restaurant has brought 10 bag lunches to the church every day, and once a month, prepares soup, biscuits, and fried chicken for 300 homeless people.

Harris Pruitt, a buyer for Market Grocery Company in Forest Park, said that when out-of-town buyers do business with Market Grocery, he always brings them to Anne & Bill's.

"They eat at places all over the country, and they remember this place," said Pruitt. "That says a lot. A lot of businesses are really hurting right now. It's so busy here that it takes longer to check out than to eat. They are living off their good reputation, quality, and variety."

Since its opening, the restaurant has moved to several locations, including 4959 Jonesboro Road (currently the site of the Chick-fil-A Dwarf House in Forest Park) and 424 Forest Parkway (once the site of the Old Hickory House restaurant). Anne Kirkham passed away in June 2005, just a few months before the restaurant opened at its current location on Main Street.

All five of Anne and Bill Kirkham's children and several of their grandchildren have had a hand in guiding the success of the restaurant. A portrait of Anne greets customers at the check-out counter.

"It feels good to be a part of it," said Cristie York, manager and vice president of the restaurant, Chafin's daughter, and Kirkham's granddaughter. "We really try to keep our prices competitive. When the economy is like this, you need to provide people a place where they can be comfortable, at least for a 30-minute lunch. They feel a little better when they leave."

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On the net:

Anne & Bills: www.anneandbills.com