219 N Green Street.

World famous Hamburgers, homemade bean soup and chili, and special breakfast.

The local diner, which had three booths and 10 stools at the counter, opened March 13, 1941, and was managed by David Ferrell initially. Doris Ferrell was the final operator of the restaurant. Ferrell’s diner closed for the final time July 29, 1995.

Ferrell’s fans still flip for food made the old-fashioned way

HENDERSON, Ky. – The sign out front of Ferrell Brothers says “World Famous Hamburger.” It’s not a gimmick to grab business from McDonald’s or any other fast-food giant. Owner Doris Ferrell, flipping burgers on the counterside grill, doesn’t try to compete with them.

“Frankly, I feel sympathy for anybody in the restaurant business.” The sign has been around since the 1940s, long before the big boys arrived on the scene. Like the sign, the green and white diner at 219 N. Green St. has changed little since opening in 1939.

“After World War II, a colonel asked my husband if he knew he was world-famous,” Mrs. Ferrell said. “The colonel said he heard more boys in foxholes and on battlefields say they wish they had a Ferrell’s hamburger.

“He told my husband, I made up my mind if I got back to the States I was going to look you up and tell you.’ My husband liked the description.” The soldiers were from Fort Campbell, Ky., and old Camp Breckinridge.

Long-time customers still rave about the mashed-out burgers, always wrapped to retain flavor. But they have a soft spot for other reasons.

Added Mike Scaggs, a Henderson city employee: “It’s probably the only place in town that hasn’t changed. And you don’t pay for any frills.”

“I wish I had a nickel for every burger I flipped there,” said Robert Gregory, who was 16 when he started “pearl diving” (washing dishes) at Ferrell’s in 1945. Lat-er, he was a cook and then owned several restaurants himself.

Gregory: “I still go in there twice a week for a burger. It’s remarkable it could still exist, with all the fast-food places.”

Today, the diner is open from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Years ago, when it offered Henderson’s first curb service, it never closed.

Soldiers and also workers from gambling joints in the “No Man’s Land” between Henderson and Evansville crowded the green-vinyl booths.

Country singer Hank Williams always came by when going to Evansville to perform or appear on musician Les Smith-hart’s radio show.

“Hank would park his brand-new white Cadillac convertible at Ferrell’s, then we’d go in another car and do our concerts at the Coliseum,” recalled Smith-hart, now a violin shop owner.

“Afterwards, we’d go back to Ferrell’s. People would mob Hank. He loved it. Fer-rell’s was the hot spot in Henderson in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.

“I keep it simple, do it the way my husband taught me,” said Mrs. Ferrell, who married the late Bob Ferrell in 1956. “I follow all his secret recipes.”

Burgers are fried on a special stove. Instead of an updraft, it has a downdraft exiting through the building’s side.

When she’s not peeling onions or making chili, Mrs. Ferrell’s 80-year-old mother, Johnnie Roehl, known as “Granny,” sits quietly at the counter.

Ferrell Brothers started in Owensboro in 1930. Joan Simpkins, a daughter from Ferrell’s first marriage, says Depression-era hamburgers cost a nickel. By the ’50s, they were 15 cents.

“Dad would throw onions on the grill and the fan would suck it out. You could smell onions all over Owensboro.

At one time or another, five of six brothers ran diners in a handful of West ern Kentucky and Tennessee towns. After the war, the remaining three dissolved the business, each taking a diner. Bob Ferrell came to Henderson in 1948. One brother, David, and his son still have three restaurants in Madisonville, Hopkinsville and Cadiz, Ky.

She has definite theories. Take coffee. Hers is 29 cents a cup, but no free warm-ups and refills: “I charge what’s a fair price for me, with my overhead. I don’t think you should have to pay a higher price to cover the guy who wants refills.”

The sign says the 85-cent hamburger is on special for 74 cents. Actually, burgers have been on permanent “special” since World War II.

“During the war, (the brothers) were operating on a real close margin of profit. When the government froze prices, it liked to ruin them. My husband told me, “Don’t ever get caught in that shape again. It’s to protect us if it ever happens again.”

Other memories: She once caught a burglar in the act, and during the blizzard of 78 ran the place alone when employees couldn’t get to work. But few things rattle her.

“Oh, years ago when we sold hot cakes, I had a man who put mustard on his. That kind of surprised me, but I didn’t ask. I never question what anyone does with food. I figure they re paying the bill.” Mrs. Ferrell, 56, says she hasn’t had a vacation in 34 years, so she’s ready to retire. The diner is for sale, but will operate until she finds a buver.

“If I had the money I’d buy it.” said Scaggs, a customer for 25 years. She knows she loses business by not being open at night, but I think she’s just wore out.”


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