Mr. Ed's co-owner Dan Givens inspects some of the last burgers at the restaurant Sunday afternoon. The longtime Valley eatery started out as an A&W and has been Mr. Ed's for decades.
BELOW, SEE COMMUNITY REACTION TO THE NEWS OF MR. ED'S CLOSING.
WALLA WALLA -- On Sunday afternoon, the menu was looking a bit light at Mr. Ed's Restaurant, the kitchen having just run out of hamburgers.
Chicken strips and pulled pork would soon follow.
"No hamburgers. That like McDonald's with no fries," waitress Biby Conrad joked as she rushed between tables at the full restaurant.
The clients didn't seem to mind that many of the American food staples for which the restaurant was known were completely consumed.
Over the next hour between 2 and 3 p.m., the crowded restaurant would start to thin out a bit, along with the menu items, and more booths would open up, perhaps never again to seat clients at Mr. Ed's.
"I got the last burger," Gloria Clark said, joking that she should freeze it for posterity.
As the decibels dropped in the emptying restaurant, the sounds of good-byes could be heard: emotionally cracked voices, hugs with firm back pats, tears and sobs.
For most of the last week, business for Mr. Ed's has been busy. But that hasn't been the case for most of the last two years, since Mr. Ed's reopened after the fire on Dec. 4, 2009.
"It's just like we never got back up to speed after the fire," co-owner Craig Potter said, giving the reason he and co-owner Dan Givens finally called it quits on the business.
So at 3 p.m., the open sign was turned over for the last time, and the doors officially closed, but people kept coming through to say good-bye.
Then at 3:01 that last order ticket was handed back to the kitchen.
"Guys. I got one more ticket for you. A chicken salad (sandwich). I'm sorry. It's to go," waitress Stephanie Cotter said.
Built in the 1970s as an A&W restaurant, the eatery was purchased by Ed and Norma Volkman in the mid-1990s, and Mr. Ed's was born.
In 2005, the restaurant was sold to Givens and another partner, who was then bought out by Potter.
For the last six year, Givens and Potter have maintained a menu built around American food classics: hamburgers, sandwiches, bacon, eggs and other comfort staples.
When many of those staples ran out on Sunday, it became obvious that the patties, pork and chicken would not be missed as much as those who prepared, served and ate them.
"It's really sad. Even though we didn't come here all the time, it has been a big part of our lives," Mike Neal said.
Neal wasn't exaggerating -- he met his wife at Mr. Ed's, where she worked as a waitress.
Then there are the regulars such as Murray Fisher and his daughter, who ate breakfast together every Wednesday at the same middle booth and the same breakfast.
"Eggs Benedict. It's the best in the country," Fisher said. "The other day, when we came in, they said the Benedicts are here."
Fisher's wife, Bettye, has also come in on occasion to dine with her husband.
"I was just struck by the friendliness of the place, how it has developed friendships. I saw an old man, and he was by himself. And someone sat with him. And there was another family with baby. It's just family," she said.
Prior to the fire, the restaurant was know for its collection of American memorabilia that was big on Elvis and drag racing.
Most of the items were damaged beyond repair after the fire, so the walls were recently adorned with photos of the restaurant's most precious commodity -- its customers.
"Our goal after the fire was to completely cover the wall with photos and we came pretty close," Potter said.
Those photos will now be taken down and given back to the clientele, many of whom have not given up hope on Mr. Ed's.
"Final payment for now, subject to change," Debra Chamberlain said, pointing to the note on her check.
"When this was an A&W, I started working here. I was only 16 years old," Chamberlain said, then exchanged a few hugs and tears with the staff.
Even some staff for unwilling to let the doors close for good.
"I believe this will reopen. It is just a matter of time and we have a lot of faithful customers," Conrad said, in between serving customers. The she added, "I don't plan on getting a job anywhere else because I know this place will reopen."
Officially, the business is still for sale, but Potter said no offers are on the table.
Throughout this week, he will do the payroll and wrap things up.
As for the hundreds of photographs of clients and their cars, people who are interested in claiming a photo should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8325.