CARY - Familiar orders poured in at Circus Family Restaurant as closing day approached.
Dot Avery got two hot dogs and a key lime milkshake, an order she’s been placing for about 44 years. Bill Leslie got the chocolate-dipped vanilla cones that he shared with his wife the night she proposed marriage
“We’ve had a lot of goodbyes,” said Elizabeth Staton, better known as Mama Liz, the woman who has worked the Electro Freeze milkshake machines since 1975.
The Chatham Street hamburger joint with the ketchup-and-mustard roof never saw its business recover after the recession, said co-owner and manager Kurt Benrud. He and his partners will close their doors in Cary tonight, ending a constant struggle to pay rent and salaries for eleven.
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“I’ve never worked for anybody else, said Benrud, 59. He started at Circus, like several of his crew, as a student at Cary High School. “I never wanted to see tomorrow happen,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Little has changed, from the paintjob to the menu, since the former Dairy Queen changed hands in October 1977. News of the business’ closing drew dozens of people, some seeking a last taste of old Cary, others curious about a landmark they’d passed a dozen times.
“It makes you feel like you’re back in time,” said Linda Howard, huddling beneath an umbrella with two other Cary High School alumi. “It makes you feel young again,” she said as the rain fell harder.
Back behind the restaurant’s plate glass windows, Benrud quoted a particularly relevant passage of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!,” he recited. When a storm lashed Lear, Benrud said, the king “welcomed it because there was no choice.”
Benrud, a well-loved community figure, is unsure where he’ll go when his job of 44 years ends. Some of his staff may relocate to the restaurant’s Raleigh location, or a sister business, Dallas Famous Chicken ’n’ Biscuits. Others are unsure – it will be hard for the 40- and 50-year-old employees to find food service jobs, or a manager as understanding and kind as Benrud, Staton said.
“I guess that’s why we’ve stayed so long,” she said. “I’ll miss the people more than the paycheck.”