Lunch counters are pure Americana. They say as much about the enterprising spirit of American business as they do about our love for food on the go. The first lunch counters debuted in five-and-dime and drug stores that sought to keep hungry customers as they ran errands. The shops became a two-in-one destination: shopping and a quick meal. Over the years, the lunch counter count declined as many small businesses opted out, choosing to focus on their main business instead of fast food. One lunch counter in Paducah, however, defied the odds and has operated successfully and steadily since it was introduced in the 1950s.
G&O Pharmacy has been bucking trends for a while. It is not only a thriving, locally owned drug store, it is a local lunch hotspot that attracts those who are in the know around Paducah. "That's Don there," says Susan Duncan, grill manager at G&O. "He worked at the TV station. Next to him is Bob. He's been in here everyday at lunch for as long as I can remember. And the next one is George."
"You better be sure to tell him which George!" he laughs. "We have three of them."
"Yeah," smiles Susan. "That's George One. We have a George Two and a George Three."
Susan knows nearly everyone who comes through the door to eat. So many of them have been coming daily for years on end.
"I've been coming here for nearly 25 years," comments a lady at the end of the counter.
At the G&O Grill, patronage is often marked in decades.
"Here comes one of our doctors," Susan says as she spies a local OB/GYN about to come through the door. "He'll order chicken salad, hold the tomato. "Got any babies workin' this morning?" she asks as he comes through the door.
"Not today, Susie. Had one early last night, but that's it for the moment as far as I know." He saddles up to the counter. "Chicken salad, hold the tomato."
Susan, who is a G&O youngster compared to many of the long time customers, has been managing the grill for 11 years. She's a well-known grill cook in Paducah history, however, working at Skinhead's for 28 years prior. "I started at Skinhead's when I was 15. He told me, 'I'll either make you or break you. But I think you'll learn.'" And Susan couldn't have asked for a better education. When she came to G&O, she brought her decades of experience at one of the most famous southern breakfast houses with her. "The owners told me that they didn't know anything about it so I could just do it."
One of Susan's first priorities was to re-establish G&O as one of the best hamburger spots in Paducah. "We get our meat delivered daily from Ross Packing Company here in Paducah. It is ground fresh, and we do the patties here as the orders come in. Everything is as fresh as we can get it, and it is cooked to order." The result is a burger that is so fresh, juicy, and tasty, that many Paducahans eat one a day for decades on end. "We do breakfast and other sandwiches and soups, but the burgers are the most popular." The quality and care in choosing the right ingredients can not only be tasted, it can be seen. "I think it just speaks comfort to many people," adds Susan. "That's one of the reasons they keep coming. We all get close. We're from all different walks of life, but we are good friends. Sometimes it hurts when someone who has been coming here daily for twenty years all of a sudden can't anymore. They are missed when they are gone." But just as soon as Susan says that, her face perks up when she spots some of her newer customers. "These are some of our new guys," she says. "They've been coming in for a month or two. They just opened an office nearby. We're getting to know them. Two cheeseburgers and fries, one with extra onion."