Paradise can be found just off the beaten path

Mary Alice Powell.
Mary Alice Powell.

For more than five decades Truckers Paradise in Henry County lived up to its name as a convenient place where the drivers of big highway rigs could get a home-cooked meal and conversation with local folks.

That was when the old U.S. 24 ran in front of the truck stop. Drivers who couldn’t take the time to stop and eat called ahead and picked up breakfast, lunch, or dinner on the go. A piece of Gerry Ripke’s pie or maybe a whole pie rounded out the adage that you can count on good food where the truckers stop.

The new U.S. 24 that is considered by most drivers as a major improvement in traffic control and safety has been detrimental to the truck stop. Because the new highway is a good distance from the restaurant, truck drivers can’t break their limited driving time to get there. What was U.S. 24 is now County Road 424.

“We have lost 60 percent of our business,” said Lynn Ripke, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Gerry.

That’s the bad news about the little place on the Maumee River two miles from Liberty Center. The good news is that the loss in business hasn’t changed Gerry’s baking and cooking prowess of 48 years. She is still at the grill from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day but Sunday, prepares daily specials, and bakes pies every day. Name a favorite kind; she may have it in the pie cooler.

One morning I stopped for breakfast and casually mentioned elderberry pie. Much to my delight, she had not only made my favorite pie with wild berries she had picked from a secret place, but planned to make blackberry pies with berries picked in the wild.

Pie slices are $2. Whole pies that are ordered ahead are $12. The selection changes daily.

Along with the usual breakfast choices, Gerry is known for the “Mess.” It’s a mixture of ham, potatoes, green pepper, onion, and beaten eggs, coaxed into a circle with a spatula and topped by cheese. A half order, $3.25, is ample, unless you’re a hungry truck driver.

Daily specials are $6 and include meat loaf, pork cutlet, beef and noodles, and country-fried steak, often served with real mashed potatoes.

Lynn is a retired truck driver, but Gerry has no plans to retire. She began cooking for three brothers and her father after her mother died when she was 14. Between them, she and Lynn have 11 children, 35 grandchildren, and 40 great-grandchildren. In the immediate family, she is called Grandma Restaurant.

Truckers Paradise is open 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day but Sunday.

The smiling waitress

Have you ever wondered how restaurant service people maintain their cool when customers have ridiculous complaints, can’t make up their minds about what to order, or are just plain grouchy?

Edna Gilpin, a waitress for 48 years, considers every customer as being right.

“I know when people go out to dinner to spend money they don’t want to hear my problems. I have always left my troubles at home and put on a smiling face, “ she said.

That attitude may explain why she is often requested by regular customers at the Country House, at the corner of U.S. 50 and M 52 near Tecumseh, Mich.

“People ask me where my station is. I am amazed after all these years that customers still want me to wait on them,” she said. She is proud to have waited on several generations in one family.

Edna has been at the Country House even before it was opened in 1966; first for the late Jim and Connie Brown and now for their grandson, Mark Danley. During the construction of the restaurant she delivered doughnuts and coffee to the workmen.

During our last conversation, I could not persuade Edna to share even one negative about her nearly half century of waiting on people. 

“I like the people, the customers, the hours, and my boss,” Edna told me. “And that’s the way it has always been.”

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

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