“Greens,” said Eleanor Wilson, “black-eyed peas.” Wilson was sitting in a booth at the Old Country Buffet with Jeff Thornton and her daughter Brittany. “Macaroni,” she continued, “salad.” She paused for a moment, “ice-cream, fried chicken, shrimp, all of it. I like all of it. Et cetera. Yeah.” On Aug. 24, Wilson was trying to explain why she had been coming regularly for breakfasts, lunches and dinners at the restaurant on Richmond Highway since it opened exactly 10 years ago that day.
Thornton said he appreciated the health benefits of the restaurant’s selection of buffet fare. “All these other fast food places don’t have any vegetables,” he explained. “They serve meat and potatoes. But you need those greens.”
Old Country Buffet’s community representative Kelly Greenwood said she believes the restaurant’s “family atmosphere” builds as much loyalty as its cooking. She added that it has supported schools, churches, libraries, daycares and the Chamber of Commerce over the past decade. Beyond its local support, the restaurant also benefits from the heavy tour-bus traffic that passes on the way to Mount Vernon. Tourists from towns across America and countries around the world have eaten at the restaurant, which serves more tour groups than any other Old Country Buffet branch in the country.
Manager Clarence Mays was transferred from Dale City more than a decade ago to help establish the restaurant. “My first memory of this place, it was a 47-foot hole in the ground,” he said, chuckling.
Four current employees were there for the restaurant’s opening: Mays, general manager Keith Connor and employees Anthony Boyd and Francisco Velasquez. Mays said there are also some customers who have spent nearly as much time in the restaurant as some employees. He cited one couple that has come in every day for lunch since the restaurant opened. “The only day they don’t show up is Christmas Day,” he said, adding that Old Country Buffet is closed on Christmas.