Thursday February 11th, 2016 6:43PM

Cornelia eatery Gusben's closing its doors after 31 years

By Rob Moore Reporter
CORNELIA - A more than 30-year dining tradition in Habersham County will come to an end as early as this weekend when Gusben's owners Jeff and Lana Hames close the restaurant's doors for the last time.

Jeff Hames says they opened Gusben's 31 years ago this past April, operating it for five years on the Bypass in Baldwin before moving to its current location on Hodges Street in Cornelia.

"We moved here in '87 - August of 1987 - and we've spent 26 years here in downtown Cornelia," he says.

While Hames hasn't announced a firm closing date, it could come as early as this weekend.

"It's going to be real soon," he says. "I know we're going to work the rest of this week - and I'm not sure about next week."

While he says not being at Gusben's on a daily basis will be a big adjustment, he is looking forward to the future.

"I just feel like it's time to do something different," Hames says. "I'd like to have more time off, spend more time with family."

The restaurant business involves long hours.

"I come in usually about 8 and get home about 10:30 or 11 at night," Hames says. "I've been very fortunate to have good employees - it's kept us going - and loyal customers."

Hames says as word has trickled out about the planned closing, long-time customers have flooded the restaurant for "one last Gusben's meal."

That has helped, in some ways, with the emotion of retiring after 31 years at the restaurant.

"We've been so busy the last couple of weeks," Hames says. "That's good because I get to see everybody again before I leave."

Some of those people drove long distances to eat there again.

"A lot of our weekend customers come from Hall, Banks, Jackson, Stephens, White and other surrounding counties," Hames says. "Just the other day, there was a girl in here ... and she drover over here from Birmingham, Ala., to eat."

The building that houses Gusben's has a long history, formerly housing Cornelia Chevrolet, a Colonial grocery store, and an arts and crafts store before becoming a restaurant in the late 1980s.

And Gusben's is a family-owned and operated business, which recently added its third generation.

"My kids grew up here," Hames says. "It's certainly been a part of their lives. Both of them worked here all the way through school. Now, my grandkids are working here - well, one of them."

Hames' granddaughter Taylor has worked at the restaurant this summer.

But it's not just relatives who are part of the Gusben's family.

Mary Lou Demore has served customers at Gusben's for 29 years and 10 months.

"My customers - they're family to me," Demore says. "Jeff and Lana are family to me. It's just a lifetime experience that I hate giving up - not ready to give up - but they say all good things must come to an end."

Demore is struggling with the thought of not seeing her customer family on a daily basis.

"I'm real sad about it," an emotional Demore says. "I'm really having a hard time, but I can understand Jeff's point of view, because he's put in 31 years here."

Demore has nothing but praise for her long-time employers.

"They're super people," she says. "And my family - my customer people - are super nice. It's just something that you hold dear."

"We have a Christian environment," Demore says. "Jeff and Lana both are Christians, and it's just a family-oriented, God-inspired place. You can't top that - and you can't top them."

Hames says he's received four calls from people interested in purchasing the business, but he has put them off for now.

"I would like to sell it," he says. "I would like to see somebody else continue it so it would still be here."

Reminiscing on 31 years at Gusben's, Hames says, "There have been a lot of steps, a lot of baked potatoes, and a lot of salads - that's for sure."
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