- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - When he steps out of the kitchen and into the Little Pigs Barbeque dining room, Dan Morris also can step into 1965.

He was 12 at the time, a magical age to explore Anderson’s North Main Street, a block from his home.

He points to the big building at 1409 North Main, home to a medical office now and to a vibrant Professional Pharmacy business then. On to the corner to his right was Yon’s Food Store, another bustling owner-operated business that offered the scents and sounds unique to neighborhood grocers.

“I grew up going in and out of that building,” Morris said Tuesday, looking at the corner as if he could still see its energy and people. “Mr. Yon was a good guy.”

In between those hot spots was the campus of a drive-in restaurant, the Varsity, and later The Pound. In June 1965, Joe Dukes opened a new diner with indoor seating, converting the drive-in lanes to a large parking lot. Restrooms remained outside, a typical location in the drive-in era.

When Morris’ father, Albert, picked up a second income as cleaning man at the new diner, Dan and his brother, Frank, were quickly recruited to help. Dan soon had the job to himself when Frank joined the Navy.

Eventually, Dan Morris learned all the skills demanded in a barbecue-cooking kitchen, including stocking the rotisserie for 12 hours of overnight heat.

Today, the soft-spoken Morris is an iconic figure at the diner, where the same rotisserie has turning pork for 2,600 weeks, most of those under Morris’ watch.

“I never thought I’d still be here after all these years,” Morris said Tuesday, as the restaurant prepared for it 50th anniversary celebration on June 13.

Lifelong Anderson resident Dougie Rumsey, 44, has been a regular for about three decades, because of the food and some timely lemonade.

He was a 17-year-old delivery man for the Parts and Supply auto store when he brought Dukes a fan belt on a hot day in 1988. As Rumsey departed, Dukes gave him a gratis serving of cold lemonade, an act of kindness that made Rumsey a fan.

These days, Rumsey can be found in the same booth two or three times a week on his lunch break from his job as the business license inspector for the city of Anderson.

“He’s always here on Tuesdays,” his wife, Lisa, said last week, “because they’re closed on Monday.”

Rumsey, who always gets the barbecue and slaw with extra dressing, is often reminded that diners can have short life spans.

“I’ve seen a lot of restaurants come and go,” he said. “You don’t make it this many years if the food is not good.”

Rumsey is such a fan of the food that he has been known to email a photo of his meal to longtime friend Jeff Guest, who often drives to Little Pigs - 20 miles out of his way - en route to Clemson from Spartanburg.

“I like for him to see what I’m having,” Rumsey said.

The tendency to order the same item is common at a diner that works hard to resist change. Dukes tried to avoid changes while managing the business for 48 years. Present owners Matt Leonard and Amy Lee have followed the philosophy for the past two.

“Our intent was keeping it the same,” Lee said.

Jimmy Conley has followed the same recipe for success in his seven years alongside Morris in the kitchen.

“Sometimes, if you’re a creative person, it’s tempting to try something new or different,” Conley said, “but you’ve got to use the same ingredients and the precise amount and cook at the same heat. We want the customer to expect it to taste the same way every time. That’s important.

“Once in a while, just to do things different, I’ll put in the ingredients in a different order,” Conley said. “But the recipe never changes.”

In the front of the business, Mike Dukes and Matt Gibson - son and grandson, respectively, of the original owner - are familiar faces. They often know the next order before the customer does.

“With a lot of customers, I just say, ‘The usual?’ and ring it up,” said Gibson, who has worked more than 20 of his 34 years in the restaurant. At one time, Gibson was part of a crew made up largely of family - including his grandfather, uncle, dad, mother and brother.

“I was about 15 when we were short on help one weekend and they put me at the window (front counter),” Gibson said. “Everything looks pretty much the same now as it did then.”

For the 6-foot-6 Gibson, the red decorative overhead lights and wood-paneled walls represent familiarity and personal history. It’s the place where crew member Marlow Littles often stashed sandwiches in the medicine cabinet for Gibson to enjoy without his parents’ knowledge. It’s also the place where he and his brother Jared once knocked over a container that held 25 gallons of sauce.

“That was a mess. It looked like a horror movie,” Gibson said.

Mike Dukes remembers a dress shop next door in what is now the northern side of the dining room.

There have been other changes: a walk-in freezer once stood outside. The deer in the display case was added in 1992.

A 2013 addition is JoLynn Chasteen, Lee’s former high school classmate. Chasteen “calls out the orders and keeps everyone on their toes,” Lee said.

Dan Morris’ routine has been slowed in recent weeks by surgery, but he remains a fixture.

“Some things have changed,” he said, “but not the recipes.”


Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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