Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Drake Country Store (Drake, KY)

Bike:  Buell XB9R
Route:  Google Maps

This was a short [albeit eventful] Countryside Food Ride. And that's OK because this story is not really about the ride -- it's about traveling just a few miles off the beaten path to enjoy some old school hospitality in the form of the rapidly disappearing Country Store. It's no secret that I love these places. The nearby Boyce Store has been a frequent and favorite topic of this blog, for example. And it's no secret that these establishments are becoming fewer and farther between in the modern economy.

So I was totally stoked a few days ago when I realized the Drake Country Store was open again. I enjoyed the ride to Roy's, but the stop in Drake on the way home absolutely made my day and I've been dying to return. Funny thing is, the few Drake pictures I got from that stop were probably better than what's below, so check them out here: SUPERCOOL SURPRISE BONUS PHOTOS.

I hate to use pictures in multiple posts, but this one is good enough to post twice.
See that link above for details.

Allow me to back up about 14 months to explain why I was so excited a few days ago. In early February '11 a snow storm got our fourth-grader out of fourth grade duties for a week or so. At the same time, the local newspaper ran this really cool story about the Drake Country Store. I was inspired and he was bored (you can only sled down the same hill so many times each day), so we conducted a Country Store Lunch Tour in the Jeep that week.

COUNTRY STORE LUNCH TOUR 2011:  Boyce Store, Mo's Grocery (featuring Wally), Drake Country Store, & Gold City Grocery.

Burgers, BLTs, & Jeep donuts... it was a blast! There was one problem, though, and it was somewhat puzzling -- we stopped at the Drake Country Store just two days after that newspaper article was published and the store was closed. It wasn't closed because of the snow. It was closed closed. A couple months later Mo's closed, also. Boo.

I enjoyed showing these places to our fourth-grader because I was just a few years older than he is now when I'd visit the Boyce and Drake stores for a Coke and some ice cream after pedaling to a favorite swimming hole with my brothers and friends. [There was no swimming near Mo's, though. When we went to Mo's, Mo's was the destination. And we didn't make it all the way out to Gold City in those days -- that would have to wait until pedal bikes turned into motorbikes.] Even back then these places seemed like a step back in time, so when I moved back to the area a couple decades later I was pleasantly surprised to see they were all still open! Somehow they were still in business after the Walmart Supercenters had setup shop in town and the IGA Crossroads were popping up on the outskirts with their groceries, gas, and attached Subways.

So, definitely a big bummer to see two of these stores close down within a couple months of each other.

This ad ran in some local publication that I don't read. I wish I did. This would have been good information to have last year!

Anyway, enough of that. Now we know the Drake Country Store is open again, so time to go grab some lunch from Anna Mae!

Last Flight.
Turkey Season is a few days out, but I got that one with my shoulder. More about that in this post.

I think I was looking to make sure my arm was still attached. I know my helmet was full of stuff like, "Ow! Ow! Ouch! Ow!" I'm tough like that.

Here we are...

Drake Country Store.

I arrived after the lunch hour and for a few minutes I was the only customer. 

Those two tables are usually occupied, and there are more tables in the back room.

Dig the pictures, dig the bumper stickers.

Today's special should have been Turkey, but Baked Ham will work. There are booths in that side room where the kitchen is, too.

Was coffee invented before Red Bull?

Baked Ham, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Corn Cake, and Gravy.

Anna Mae and her granddaughter smiled for a picture.

VERDICT:  I'm a big fan. The food is always good and fresh. When it's busy, Anna Mae has some help running the store, but I think she does all the cooking. I know she's made every meal I've had here. The menu is pretty big, and if they're out of something she'll let you know. It doesn't appear that they have a special everyday so when I do see something on the Today's Special board, that's what I'm ordering. It is not a big place, but it is very accomodating and you can even throw a party here if you want. Anna Mae said they recently had a party with over 20 bikers while still serving the regular Friday Catfish crowd.

As the newspaper article pointed out, this is really more a restaurant than a store. There are a few knick knacks you can pick up, but there isn't much in the way of groceries and you can't buy gas. Boyce Store does sell that other stuff, but I think people visit both mostly for breakfast or lunch and conversation. It was nice to speak with Anna Mae and learn a little more about the place.

Apparently it was closed for about six months last year before she bought it and re-opened it. This was the third time she's bought it since the Kitchens family sold it in 1996 after fifty years of ownership. These stores are funny that way -- it takes a certain person to make it work. Ruth over at the Boyce Store has sold hers and had to buy it back two or three times, and it sounds like Anna Mae does the same with this place. God bless 'em both!

Drake Country Store.

Drake Country Store. Instagram.

White's Chapel Church is right across the street from the store.

FLASHBACK:  White's Chapel.
I drove around out here in the Jeep just playing with the GoPro when I first got it. The store had been closed a couple months at that point. Duncan Road runs back past the church and it's a good shortcut to get between Drake and Boyce.

FLASHBACK:  The thing about Duncan Road is that a river runs through it. Well, the middle fork of Drakes Creek does, anyway. This is a pretty popular fishing/swimming/beer drinking spot.

FLASHBACK:  The creek is often passable.

FLASHBACK:  A few hundred yards downstream used to be another popular swimming hole with a good rope swing. I'm sure my high school friends remember The Triangle.

Serious Fence I.

Serious Fence II. Barely visible in the top right is what has to be the greenest pond in the county.

Something looks different around here...

FLASHBACK:  This picture from the exact same spot last summer shows why it looks different.

Over to the right is the other end of Duncan Road. I'm pretty sure the Buell prefers this route with it's fancy bridge and whatnot.

Martha's Chapel on the left.
Boyce - Old Drake Community Center on the right.

FLASHBACK:  Boyce - Old Drake Community Center.

FLASHBACK:  Boyce - Old Drake Community Center.

FLASHBACK:  Martha's Chapel.

I kinda felt like I was cheating on Boyce when I had lunch at Drake, so I stopped in for dessert. Yeah, I know it sounds weird. Whatever. I'm glad I did. Apparently Ruth still hasn't sold the store, and I don't know if that's good or bad, but I know it's open...

Boyce Store.

This is Toni. She makes a mean Boyce Burger!

Toni noticed my camera and we started talking about bikes and stuff. She said, "Well you must know my brother JD because everybody with one of those bikes does." She was right! Small world. He's an excellent rider and the only friend I've had who also owned a Buell Firebolt. The last time I saw JD he left my house in a Buell wheelie that he carried out of sight. I'm kinda used to seeing things like that, but our fourth-grader third-grader was very impressed and I'm glad he saw JD do it 'cause he'll never see me do it. JD has since moved away from the area, and we chatted for a few minutes after Toni dialed him up and handed me her phone. Very cool!

All American Dessert I.

All American Dessert II.
Just like the good old days...

Boyce Bike Parking. Instagram.
I love this pic because 20-some years ago, we'd park our bicycles in the same spot.

Headin' home...
That was a darn good lunch break, except for the deal with the Turkey.


UPDATE (5/6/12):  Drake Vintage Music & Curios
Bike Jeep:  Wrangler TJ
Route:  Same as above (everytime)

Over the last few weeks I've been back to the Drake Country Store a few times for breakfast and lunch. I've learned that breakfast is always busy, and even when there are people at every table Anna Mae is keeping up and the food is out pretty quick. She'll let you know if you might have to wait a few extra minutes while she bakes some fresh biscuits or fries up some more bacon, and that's never bothered me! Lunch is busy, too, and I like to stop in late when it's quiet and peaceful. If you want to grab a meal to go or just take it outside to eat, she'll box it up for ya.

This is a great spot for a lunch break on a nice day, and it's only five miles off the Natcher Parkway so get up and get out of town for a few minutes! And keep reading because there's more than one reason to visit Drake...

Drake Country Store.
Rocking chairs now sit where the Liars' Bench used to.

$4.44 Breakfast.

"BLT Under a Shade Tree"
That's the name of a song I haven't written because I don't write songs.

I still stop at Boyce for my dessert on the lunch trips. This one time I got to talking to Toni about burgers and stuff, and then I got home to find out our dinner plans are cancelled. So I went back to get a Boyce Burger, and that's when I learned that the Boyce Store grill closes at 4:00.  Heartbreak! Toni didn't have to ask what I wanted when I went back for lunch the next day. I'd call that song, "You Broke My Heart, So You Know My Order."

Boyce Bike Parking II. Instagram.
[Not my bike, but this guy built it himself and he calls it his Johnny Cash Special.]

Back to Drake, where we still haven't tried the Friday Catfish...

...but our fourth-grader fifth-grader did get that Drake Country Store meal we missed some 14 months ago! 

Just me, a Double Cheeseburger, Curly Fries, & Iced Tea under a shade tree with the Jeep and an orange mail Jeep.

Wait... what? I followed that Jeep next door and that's when Drake got a lot more interesting. The mailman dude was stopping in at The Drake Community Post Office. I thought that place had closed up a long time ago! I was wrong... very, very wrong.

The mailman and his wife have four such Jeeps. I've seen her all over Alvaton in the pink one. He says the strobe light  and that candy cane deal on the back of this one looks like fireworks at night. I have not seen that, but I believe him.

Drake Community Post Office.
Drake Vintage Music & Curios.

Drake Community Post Office.
Drake Vintage Music & Curios.
Right next door to Drake Country Store.

Postal business is conducted at that little desk on the left... 

...but this is not your average Post Office!

Mr. Freeman Kitchens.

Meet Freeman, previous owner of the Drake Country Store, current operator of the Drake Community Post Office, and owner of Drake Vintage Music & Curios. Apparently I wasn't asking the right questions next door because nobody told me Freeman was still over here! I didn't have to ask him many questions. He's a really really nice guy and he loves to talk about Drake, so I learned a lot more about the history of this spot.

The store was opened by the Duncan family in 1926 and was known as C.M. Duncan & Son back then. Freeman started working there when he and the store were both about twenty years old. After a few years he bought the store and it was known as the Kitchens Grocery during his fifty years at the helm. It was a proper country grocery store, gas station, and post office. It was also the home of his music collection which was becoming pretty well known in certain circles.

After selling the store, he moved his contract post office and the music business next door here, and both are still going strong. If anybody is counting, that means he has been working with the postal service for 66 years! It's hard to comprehend how much the world has changed during the time Freeman has spent on this property, and it's a privilege to spend a few minutes talking about such things with him. I'm not a collector of vinyl and I know nothing about country music. I don't even own a record player, but this place is impressive. People who truly appreciate such things are still traveling to Drake to come visit the store. His collection is mostly focused on early country, but you can find a little bit of everything in here if you look around for awhile.

I stopped in twice and there are pictures of both visits below, so if anything looks out of place from one photo to the next, that is why.  The GoPro is a bit out of its element in here so the pics aren't great, but there are some links at the bottom where you can find some better pictures and a lot more information.

Hello, Dolly!


I love this model of the store back in the Kitchens Grocery days, complete with the Liars' Bench. It's big and it's easy to miss because it's sitting on top of a bookshelf. Make sure to look for it if you ever visit.

Freeman in front of his Johnny Cash / June Carter Cash / Carter Family wall.
[I swear he was smiling in the other pictures, but they were all blurry. Boo, GoPro.]

Smiling and blurry.

Every wall is covered with framed pictures of country artists, many with personalized autographs to Freeman. On my second visit I learned that this wall is special because Freeman was close to the Carter Family and he was president of the Carter Family Fan Club. When he first started collecting Carter Family records I'm sure he had no idea what that would lead to, but we see some of it here...

Johnny & June.


Some members of the Carter family standing in front of Kitchens Grocery. The picture on the left is the last one Freeman received from Johnny Cash. Freeman said this was "after he started looking not so good."

Yours for the Carters
The Vintage Sound Collections of Freeman Kitchens
Kentucky Library & Museum Exhibit.

Freeman seems rightfully proud that some of his collection was on display at the Kentucky Museum on WKU's campus last fall, and he showed me this item above. That card is from Jennifer Jameson who curated the exhibit and obviously spent a lot of time in Drake. During her research, she even found items that Freeman had parted with many years ago and it sounds like he was surprised to see them again. You can learn a lot more about Freeman and the history of his collection by reading some of her documents found here:

The radio segment in that last link is most definitely worth listening to -- it's well produced, there's a lot of information, and you can hear some funny stuff from Freeman himself. Freeman also told me that a couple local radio shows are still using some his records from time to time (both air on Sundays):

I hope this post prompts somebody somewhere to go visit Drake, grab some lunch, and meet Freeman. [If nothing else, I bet my Farewell Drifters friends will make the trip sometime soon after they finish touring.] It really is a pleasure to spend a few minutes chatting with him. And if you do, make sure you ask him how many records he has. Because nobody ever does that...

Drake Community Post Office.
Drake Vintage Music & Curios.

UPDATE II (8/25/12):  Anna Mae's Last Day

We've known for a few weeks that Anna Mae sold the store and the new owners would be moving in sometime soon. The fifth-grader sixth-grader and I had a nice chat with her a couple weeks ago and on one hand it was sad because we could tell how much she loves this place and how much they'll miss it, but on the other hand it was nice to hear that she was happy with the new owners and confident they would keep this place going.

Today was their last day, so we made sure to stop in for breakfast and say goodbye. It was a great visit, and it was also the first time my wife and Little Man had been here. Kent got Little Man a tractor and dump truck to play with, and Wendell and Anna Mae both gave him a high five or two before we left. It was my wife's first visit, but she could tell how special this place is to these people and she was on the verge of tears when we said our goodbyes. You don't get that at McDonald's or Waffle House.

I wish them the best, and hopefully we'll still see them at the store every now and then!

Mini Me with his new tractor and dump truck toys.

Our last Anna Mae breakfast, with tractor.

UPDATE III (8/28/12):  By chance I visited the Boyce Store a few weeks ago when Brad & Brie were on-site for their first day, so I thought it would be cool to visit Drake Country Store today and meet the new owners on their first day here, too. Glad I did!

The tables were re-arranged a bit and the ice cream freezer was moved from the back of the store to the front (great idea). Other than that, Meg said they don't plan on changing much. They'll still do Catfish Fridays, and they plan to bring back the Daily Specials. After they get settled in we can look forward to new specials like chili and BBQ, and they're hoping to have a Grand Re-Opening Party sometime in October. Be there!

At the beginning of this month I was worried about the future of our Boyce and Drake stores, but August ended up being a good month -- both stores have eager new ownership and I'm certainly glad they'll both be around for awhile...

The tables are moved around a bit, but not much.

Ice cream on the left.

The BLT's still feature Kirby & Poe bacon... I think we're gonna be OK!

Say, that gave me an idea...