A few weeks ago I learned that Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House in Richmond has closed. They didn’t survive the pandemic. I’m not surprised, though I’m sad.
For a time, it was a small chain in Virginia, with locations from Richmond to Lynchburg. In Lynchburg, they were in the old Howard Johnson’s in the mid-90s. My grandparents used to stay at that hotel when they visited.
Over time, the number of Aunt Sarah’s dwindled. When I was at the University of Richmond, one was on Broad Street west of campus. I took my grandmother there once in 2005. That one closed around 2007; I think it’s a WaWa now.
There was one closer to downtown on Broad Street. I often tried to time my trips through Richmond, when traveling from Raleigh to Baltimore, so I could stop at that Aunt Sarah’s after the other one closed. There were even times, visiting my parents, I’d deliberately go through Richmond — a good hour and a half out of my way — just for pancakes.
The last time I visited: April 12, 2019. I took pictures. Maybe somehow I knew this would be my last time.
It was vintage, rustic. A wooden interior. An orange juice squeezer at the cash register. Brain puzzlers on the tables. The restroom was always under repair. The photographs on the wall were of places, like the baseball field from the 1940s, that don’t exist anymore. Going in Aunt Sarah’s felt like stepping back in time seventy years.
I was often waited on by an elderly black woman named Jackie. She had very white and very curly hair and a very soft voice. She’d refill my coffee while I read the menu or the Times-Disgrace. She was so nice, and I wish my grandmother had been more like her. In fact, it was the last visit where I told her that she was good and kind and I looked forward to seeing her whenever I came through Richmond and could stop. We talked for five minutes. She said she didn’t realize I wasn’t local.
My order was pancakes, grits, coffee. The pancake platter would change, but that was the order. The check came to about fifteen dollars. The tip would depend on what I had in my wallet — a ten? a twenty? A twenty dollar tip for Jackie was not uncommon.
Thank you, Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House — and Miss Jackie (as one of the other waitresses referred to her) — for the good meals and the good memories.