- Associated Press - Monday, April 28, 2014

GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) - With its fried chicken, pecan pie and Norman Rockwell prints, few things said old-time Greenwood as eloquently as Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria.

The Rotary Club met there, as did the Kiwanis and the Chamber of Commerce. Gospel singer Bill Gaither held concerts there.

The 88-foot Byrd tray line officially ends its run Wednesday, but its last big day was Sunday, when hundreds of people - the men in coats and ties, the women in dresses or nice slacks - lined up post-church to what some believe the longest cafeteria line in the nation.

Ginny Byrd, the cafeteria’s owner, manager and widow of its namesake and founder, said efforts were underway to retain the restaurant’s group business. The 43,000-square-foot building will still be available for meetings and banquets, and the kitchen will be used for catering. The restaurant will continue but in greatly pared-down form, with room for just 50 diners instead of 400, and it will be converted to walk-up service.

“Younger people have a negative reaction to cafeterias,” Byrd told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1j850wK ), “because it reminds them of their high school cafeteria, where the food wasn’t so good.”

The National Restaurant Association actually projects a bump in sales next year for cafeterias, but it’s a tiny bump, at a tenth of a percent, far below the trade group’s projections for restaurants as a whole.

Some chains, such as Chipotle and Qdoba, have borrowed from the cafeteria concept, their customers filing past the food as they order it. But the straight-up cafeteria, even in a time of retro-chic when hipsters wear fedoras and drink Manhattans, “is one of the slower-growing segments,” said restaurant association spokeswoman Christin Fernandez, “and, by locations, one of the smaller segments.”

“Times change; eating habits change,” Byrd said.

Byrd’s big time always was Sunday, late morning to early afternoon - the after-church crowd. It’s a significant crowd in Greenwood, home to some three dozen churches.

A cafeteria can’t live on Sunday alone, but Byrd’s after-church business remained solid, and elderly.

On Sunday, hundreds of septuagenarians and octogenarians grabbed a tray and headed down the line to select their last supper. They were not weepy.

“It’s been a wonderful place to eat,” said Earl Stutsman, a 73-year-old retired financial planner. He went directly to Byrd’s from Victory Baptist Church with his wife, Joy, and brother-in-law, Bob Robinson.

On his tray he’d placed fish, potato salad, green beans, a muffin and a piece of pie the size and shape of a brick (he shared the pie with his wife). “But it’s a matter of dollars and cents, I’m sure. Every business faces it: You either adjust to the times or you go out of business. We’ve known the (Byrd) family since the ‘60s, and they’re successful people, and they’re adjusting.”

He said there’s quite a bit of competition for Greenwood’s dining-out dollars, even in the down-home niche. At the next I-65 exit is a Cracker Barrel, and next door to Byrd’s is a Bob Evans.

“We know the story of Jonathan Byrd, and a great story that is,” said Lucile Carpie, 89, who arrived after attending services at Southport Baptist Church and was waiting near the head of the line while her husband, Wes, 90, parked the car. “But everything changes.”

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