FACES & PLACES: Restaurant part of Thorsby’s culture

Published 5:02 pm Thursday, August 13, 2015

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Editor’s note: This story published in The Clanton Advertiser’s Faces & Places 2015. Copies are still available at the Advertiser office, located at 1109 Seventh St. S. in Clanton (across Hwy. 31 from the Winn-Dixie shopping center). Or, read a digital version of the magazine here.

There are few things associated as closely with the town of Thorsby than Dari-Delite. Possibly the school, or Helen Jenkins Chapel nearby, but the little restaurant that sits off Highway 31 is woven into the fabric of the community.

The name Dari-Delite comes from a chain of burger/ice cream joints similar to Dairy Queen. Though Karen and Larry Reeser, owners of Thorsby Dari-Delite, pay a nominal licensing fee to retain the name, they’ve made the restaurant their own — and maintained it as a Thorsby staple.

Thorsby Dari-Delite was built in 1950 by Luther Mims, who ran restaurants by the same name in Clanton. Lyndel Ellison, who worked at Dari-Delite under Mims, bought Dari-Delite in 1975. Ellison and her husband Wayne would hire a 15-year-old Thorsby School student who would later serve as a manager for a couple of years and then purchase the business in 1987.

Karen Reeser (right) started working at Dari-Delite at age 15 and purchased the business in 1987. She married Larry in 1998, and the two have become common sights at the restaurant.

Karen Reeser (right) started working at Dari-Delite at age 15 and purchased the business in 1987. She married Larry in 1998, and the two have become common sights at the restaurant.

“I just knew that it was in my blood,” said Karen Reeser, the current owner. “I was a fast-paced person.”

The building has been remodeled several times, though the basic set-up has never changed: Customers order inside and enjoy their meals in the dining area, or order at the walk-up window outside, to carry home their burgers and ice cream or eat outside on nice days.

The kitchen and stock room were renovated in 2014, and a new sign was put up during the summer of 2015.

During Karen Reeser’s time, many items have been added to the menu, which is offered for lunch and dinner, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday except for an early closure (9 p.m.) on Wednesdays. “Broaster” chicken, shrimp, catfish, hot wings and steak Philly sandwiches are all now popular entrees.

The Reesers said the chicken and hot hamburger are the favorites. (For non-Chilton County residents, a hot hamburger is an open-face sandwich with gravy poured over the top.)

Dari-Delite was recently named one of Alabama’s “Best greasy burgers to try before you die” (No. 22 on the list).

Also, the ice cream is always a hit. The restaurant has recently started offering “Flavor Burst” ice cream, which features a swirl of a second flavor.

Dinner is the busiest time for Dari-Delite, which stays packed year-round. People want ice cream even in the winter, Larry Reeser said.

Karen and Larry Reeser married in 1998. Karen had three daughters at the time. Heather Turner, Tammy Reeser and Holly Matson ­— all formerly Clevelands — each helped their mother at the restaurant.

Karen’s and Larry’s daughter, Lauren Reeser, works at Dari-Delite now as an upcoming sophomore at Thorsby School.

Larry Reeser was originally from north Shelby County. He moved to Thorsby in 1993, substitute teaching and coaching softball at Thorsby School during three seasons that saw the Rebels, starring the Cleveland girls, advance to the state tournament.

Reeser, now a pastor at New Salem Baptist Church and a bus driver for Jemison schools, has also called high school football games on Friday nights on a local radio station with Zack Bates.

Reeser said Bates asked him to join him in the booth in 2003.

“I figured it would be for that one year, but I’ve been doing it ever since,” Reeser said.

Larry Reeser has become almost as recognizable at Dari-Delite as his wife. He usually works lunch shifts, as Karen keeps six of the couple’s grandchildren during the day.

Michael Rawlinson, Karen’s cousin, is the night manager and has become a Dari-Delite “personality” himself.

The Reesers said some customers will give their orders only to Rawlinson, reminiscent of the regard loyal customers had for Karen Reeser’s mother, Dot (Farris) Porter, known as “Aunt Dot.”

Karen Reeser said Porter was known for her biscuits, during a time the restaurant served breakfast. Porter, who has passed, worked at Dari-Delite for more than 20 years.

The faces have changed, as have the meals served and the menu — slightly. But thanks to loyal customers, good food and people dedicated to serving it, Dari-Delite remains a Thorsby cornerstone.