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Famous Gwinnett Diner shuts its doors

Staff Photo: Tyler Estep. The Gwinnett Diner, located on Scenic Highway near Gwinnett Drive, closed its doors for the final time Sunday. Opened in 1974 as a Huddle House, the restaurant was featured in films such as "Road Trip."

Staff Photo: Tyler Estep. The Gwinnett Diner, located on Scenic Highway near Gwinnett Drive, closed its doors for the final time Sunday. Opened in 1974 as a Huddle House, the restaurant was featured in films such as "Road Trip."

LAWRENCEVILLE — Joanne Thompkins called it “the biggest thing” that ever happened to her.

The dish washer and assistant waitress worked part-time at the Gwinnett Diner — which closed its doors for the final time on Sunday — for two years, falling in love with its atmosphere and regular customers.

When Thompkins’ granddaughter became what she called a “super honors” graduate from Loganville High School in May, the teenager’s name was sprawled out on the Lawrenceville diner’s sign. It was an unparalleled source of pride, she said.

“That was the biggest thing in this world,” Thompkins said. “All these people that come into the Gwinnett Diner are special.”

The diner, a mainstay near the intersection of Scenic Highway and Gwinnett Drive, became the latest victim of a poor economy over the weekend. Owners Edgar and Vickie Fussell were forced to close shop, and the small building sat empty Monday afternoon, during what would typically be a slow but steady lunch hour.

A lone confused driver stopped outside Monday afternoon, peering in through dark windows before eventually moving on.

Vickie Fussell said she and her husband just couldn’t afford it any more.

“We’ve been fighting,” she said. “We just made the decision the other day and came right down to it. It’s just a lot of hours to put in there, and we can’t afford to have it staffed as fully as you like. All the food prices have gone up and up and up.”

The diner, which opened in 1974 as a Huddle House, had gained notoriety in recent years for its small roles in movies.

Alan Alda and Jennifer Aniston visited the diner last October to shoot scenes for their upcoming film “Wanderlust.” The restaurant was also featured in the 2000 Tom Green flick “Road Trip.”

An unconfirmed rumor also holds that the eatery had a cameo in the 1981 Burt Reynolds feature “Cannonball Run,” Fussell said.

“We had people come up and offer their personal money to try and see us through, but with the economy the way it’s going we just can’t put all our eggs in that basket,” she said. “It’s just like a family. People come there more for the camaraderie and the conversation, not necessarily just the food.”

Fussell pointed to a decline in once-common groups of police officers, bus drivers and county employees that ate at the restaurant, as well as “over 25 percent” of an elderly customer base passing away in a three-year span.

Thompkins, one of the restaurant’s five employees, said the closing would “hurt a lot of families.”

“I’m talking about regular, everyday Americans that come in there on a daily basis,” she said. “The diner is not an exclusive place. It’s just a regular everyday place where people come in and drink coffee and talk about news events.

“This closing involves a lot of people. It puts more people out of work here in Gwinnett County that are just regular, everyday people.”

The Gwinnett Diner is looking for potential buyers. Those interested should call 770-633-1395.