Audies leaving Maine Place in their heart
Rick Audie tends to express his affection for his customers in an odd way.
When Troy Thompson responded to a greeting from another customer with an "I'm fine," Rick voiced a different opinion.
"No you're not; you're old and diabetic," the Maine Place owner said, although he allowed Thompson had more hair than he did.
Far from taking offense, Thompson found a seat at an empty table and aimed a barb Rick's way.
"That's about all he does around here," he said of Rick's teasing.
Banter, companionship and good food are what Thompson and other regulars expect from the Maine Place.
"I'm here every morning at a quarter till 7 to start my day off," he said. "We have a little clan. It's a good meeting place. You have to let Rick think he's in charge or he gets irate."
Before Thompson can order, Rick is calling a mutual friend and fellow Mason Lodge brother to ensure he is meeting Thompson for lunch.
"Everybody down here is a regular," Rick said. "Once you come, you're part of the group. You just keep coming.
"Very few people who walk in that door are just customers. Very few."
Waitress Kimberly Ashlock said the Audies let her and fellow waitress Stephanie Gambino join in the camaraderie.
"They are very open people," she said. "The floor is ours, and everybody is family."
The family is about to lose two of its most important members. Saturday is to be the Audies' last day at the restaurant they opened three years ago and named after Rick's childhood home. The packed house during the noon rush offered evidence the couple is not leaving for lack of customers.
"My father is 74 and has surgery scheduled for next month," Rick said. "I'm the only remaining child. If there was an emergency and I had to leave, there is nothing I could do at this point."
Patti knew before the restaurant opened that it would develop the relaxed family atmosphere, Rick said.
"She nailed it," he said. "I didn't realize how close these relationships would become. It's why we started staying open until 4 in the afternoon instead of 2 -- so that people who wanted a place to gather could come in for a cup of coffee."
A few minutes after noon Tuesday, Patti shared a few words with Bob McCoy and Larry Baxter while massaging McCoy's shoulders.
"Right there during lunch when it's real busy, my job is to get them their orders," she said. "When I have time, I come out and talk to customers."
If weekdays appeared hectic as lunch-time customers arrived in succeeding waves to sit at the diner's limited number of tables recently vacated by the last of the breakfast or morning coffee crowd, Saturdays are even more so, Patti said.
"Saturday morning everybody knows everyone else," she said. "People at different tables are talking to each other. We had a gentleman from Nebraska stop in one Saturday. When he paid his check, he said it was like eating in Mayberry. I took it as a compliment."
Saturday will be a very emotional day, the Lenexa couple said. But they promised their departure is not the end of the diner they and their daughter Traci Bruce -- who served as the restaurant's waitress until taking a job with Rehrig Pacific in December -- made popular nor a final goodbye to the many friendships they made in De Soto.
The diner has been purchased by Sweet Memories/La Louisiane owners Margaret Humphreys and Gordon Chaffin.
The restaurant will open Tuesday as usual, Chaffin said. Things will operate as they are now for a few weeks, but the new owners are looking to open on Sunday and add evening hours in the future, Gordon said.
As for the friendships the Audies have made, Rick said he had connections that will keep him tied to De Soto.
"We're going to miss everyone, but our daughter still works in De Soto," Rick said. "I'm a member of the Masonic Lodge. I'm not transferring that."
Thompson expressed similar feelings in the fashion of his and Rick's friendship.
"Patti will be greatly missed -- not Rick," he joked.