It's not unusual at Dearman's to hear folks reminiscing about how when they were kids they would sit at the counter sipping on a nectar cream soda.

That was in the late 1950s and 1960s. Some things have changed since then.

Opened as Dearman's Diner & Soda Shop, a drugstore with a lunch counter, it is now a full-fledged restaurant at 7633 Jefferson Highway.

And, instead of comic books, you'll find customers staring at smartphones.

Some things, however, haven't changed — the hamburger, still the top menu item, and Chantay Eackels, who has been working behind the counter for 38 years.

Eackels has made so many hamburgers, she doesn't bother to measure or weigh the patties.

"I just hold the meat in my hand, and I know if it's right," she said. 

In 1958, William Dearman opened his pharmacy with a lunch counter in what was then Twin Cedars Shopping Center. The drugstore was a neighborhood destination for youngsters and adults.

A walk through Dearmans Diner & Soda Fountain. Staff video by Robin Miller

"You can imagine summertime when kids would hop on their bikes and come here for a soda," said manager Casey Evans.

Those kids have grown up and now bring their own children and grandchildren to Dearman's. And everyone is still sipping on nectar sodas.

"It's hard to get," Evans said, "but I have a supplier in Covington who gets it for me."

Dearman's has changed hands twice through the years. David Van Gelder has owned the restaurant since 2007.

"I think it was converted from a pharmacy into a restaurant in the early 2000s," Evans said. "Walgreens and Rite Aid had moved into the area. The pharmacy had occupied the entire space that's now the restaurant." 

The diner has faced its share of challenges through the years, including a fire in 2006 and another in 2016 followed by a lease termination that eventually was renewed.

"The flood happened in 2016 as well, so subcontracting and actually even just getting replacement items took longer than expected," Evans said. "It was definitely a series of unfortunate events."

Customers again began filling the tables when the diner reopened in late 2017 with new checkerboard tile floors, cherry red vinyl booths and chairs, and framed 1950s era photos. And customers kept coming for pick-up orders when the state's coronavirus regulations shuttered the dining room in early 2020.

When the state finally lifted the lockdown, everyone came in asking for Eackels.

"I have customers that come in, saying, 'I didn't see you behind the counter, so I didn't even want to order,'" Eackels said. "I could be behind there cooking, and one of the kids who works here will come and get me, and there will be a customer out there saying, 'Miss Chantay, I'm so glad you're here.'"

Eackels began working at Dearman's when she was 15 and continued through the birth of six daughters. Now she's approaching her 54th birthday. 

"I had two older sisters that worked here," she said. "When I got out of school, I would just be here. One of my daughters worked here part-time, and one of my granddaughters will come here sometimes."

Eackels worked every day throughout the pandemic, and now she stops by the diner even when she's off.

"It's like my home away from home," she said. "I just want to be here cooking, so when I'm off, I come by to see what's happening. This is like my family. I tell the kids working here that I think of them as my kids."

Eackels likes making the burgers, but it's the BLT that's her favorite.

"Look," she said, lifting the bread on a sandwich to reveal a pile of crispy bacon. "You'll never see this much bacon on a BLT on a sandwich at any other restaurant. That's another thing we're known for — giving you a lot of bacon."

Evans said that with the exception of such additions as a veggie burger and fried chicken sandwich, Dearman's menu, including tuna sandwiches, is pretty much the same as when it was in 1958.

There's also a large selection of sodas, phosphates and shakes in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, Dreamsicle, hot fudge, cherry, banana, and, of course, nectar, all made to order behind the counter.

"It's a menu they (customers) can depend on," Evans said. "They know we're going to be here, and we want to be dependable for them. They've been there for us, so we do our best to be there for them."

And, if you want, you can sit at the counter on one of the original stools from 1958 and sip away. But you'll have to bring your own comic book.


Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com