ELIZABETHTOWN — The Front Porch Restaurant, an Elizabethtown icon that has been open since the summer of 1986, closed it’s doors for good on Wednesday.
“It was a tough decision, but one that’s been coming for a few years,” said Robin Summerlin, owner of the restaurant and catering service. “Food costs and labor costs have kept us from being able to make a profit over the past four or five years — but it really hasn’t ever been easy.”
Summerlin said the Front Porch, as well as its catering service, has had some good years in the past — especially during the summer months when the White Lake area exploded with summer and weekend visitors.
“That was usually the best time of the year for us,” Summerlin said. “But recently, even that hasn’t helped.”
The Front Porch employed 30 people — including Summerlin and his brother Mark — all of whom are now looking for a job.
“I can’t say enough about all the good employees we’ve had, with very little turnover,” Summerlin said. “And we’ll be trying to help their job searches with references and anything else we can do.”
Summerlin added that, over the 27 years in business, the Front Porch has been a part of numerous celebrations.
“We’ve been part of a lot of weddings, birthdays and other special events,” he said, “and we’ve been able to make a lot of friends along the way.
“We really appreciate and are grateful for all the customers we’ve had over the years,” Summerlin added. “We just can’t thank the community enough.”
Reaction around town has been mixed with shock and sadness.
“The Front Porch is widely known across the state and it has made a tremendous impact on Elizabethtown for more than 20 years,” said Elizabethtown Town Manager Eddie Madden. “We wish Robin and his family the best in the future and we thank him and his dedicated employees for making the Front Porch the success it has been.”
Elizabethtown Police Chief Bobby Kinlaw also weighed in on the closing.
“The Front Porch is a landmark for Elizabethtown,” he said. “I regularly have had people who are passing through from out of town ask for directions to the Front Porch. (It) will be greatly missed by both tourists and locals.
“I hate to see this great landmark close,” Kinlaw added. “It has helped bring so many visitors to Elizabethtown.”
Dawn Maynard, executive director of the Elizabethtown-White Lake Chamber of Commerce, said she’s disappointed it became necessary for the Front Porch to close.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “And it will impact the Chamber quite a bit since we held our monthly lunch meetings there. And right now, I’m not real sure what options we will have.”
Summerlin currently serves as a member of the Chamber’s board of directors.
Madden said he is hopeful that the future will soon see another business take the Front Porch’s place.
“We are fortunate in Elizabethtown to have a very robust downtown,” Madden said. “We are also fortunate to have a very high occupancy rate, and the businesses we have are doing well and remain strong even in a tough economy.”
Summerlin preferred not to say whether the building was owned or leased, but a search of public records through the Register of Deeds shows that Summerlin does own the building.
The Front Porch is the third restaurant Elizabethtown has lost this year, joining Bella Roma and the Riverside Grill. But the town limits still has at least 17 restaurants in business.