For the past 24 years, Debra Parker, owner and operator of the Heart Line Restaurant on Riverside Drive, has awakened at 3:00 a.m. By 6:00 a.m. she has coffee ready for her early-morning regulars. They sometimes wait in their cars for the restaurant to open and sometimes Debra surprises them with steaming cups delivered curbside. No wonder her customers are loyal.

And they are hungry. Debra’s customers consume at least a thousand eggs a week. Scrambled eggs sizzle on the grill while Debra whips up more eggs and tosses in cinnamon and some sugar grabbed from the countertop to make French Toast; simultaneously, she carries on at least two conversations, hugs three customers and oversees the cash register. The breakfast crowd moves on; lunch time arrives and the menu switches to plate lunches. Roast beef is a favorite, but again, eggs reign supreme. The Heart Line is famous for its Western Cheesy Burger consisting of a cheeseburger topped with bacon and a scrambled egg. Wow! What’s not to like?

Good home cooking is more than a slogan. Many of the ingredients come from Debra’s garden. Her chicken vegetable soup is stocked from it; her 14-day pickles made from the home-grown cucumbers are the key ingredient in her chicken salad; every summer she freezes turnip greens to use throughout the year. Furthermore, many of Debra’s recipes come from family traditions; she still uses several that are in her grandmother’s handwriting. Debra fondly remembers staying in the kitchen with her to help cook while the rest of the family worked in the tobacco fields. Debra is willing to share some of these recipes, like her chicken salad that uses only white meat, celery, mayonnaise, and her 14-day pickles; on the other hand, others are secret. The only clue she will give to someone trying to imitate the customer-favorite spaghetti sauce is to say, “It sits for two days.”

Every day, family and friends fill the restaurant. Not surprisingly it is frequently the scene of prom pictures, celebrations, and day-of-birth progress reports. Most employees are related to Debra. In fact, her mother used to work for her. On one busy day, Debra snapped out an order to her. Her mother complied, but when the rush was over, she quietly asked to speak to Debra privately. Then, using that voice reserved for mommas only, Mother said, “Don’t you ever talk to me that way again,” and gave Debra a little smack. Debra smiles at the memory; nevertheless, she never forgot the instruction. Her mother’s portrait graces the wall with the just-for-fun caption, “Beware of Attack Waitress.” Currently, Debra’s daughter-in-law, Penny Jordan, is training to be the new manager; grandson Chris Trammell is the nighttime dishwasher. When granddaughter Kala Reynolds was a little girl, she would go from table to table with an order pad and pretend to be a waitress. Now that she is a teenager, Kala fills in as a cashier. Additionally, one of Debra’s best friends, Krista Jones, who is the prep person, is famous for her pleasant voice on the phone when people call in orders; Vickie Draine, another best friend, has been Debra’s “right-hand morning person” for 20 years.

The restaurant is one of the oldest eateries in Danville. In 1957, Hassel T. Boaze, a disabled veteran, appeared on the popular TV quiz show Strike It Rich. He and the other contestants told heart-wrenching stories and tried to win money by answering questions and make their dreams become reality. Although Boaze worked for Merita Bread, he aspired to own a restaurant. He didn’t win any cash on the show, but the emcee opened the Heart Line– a phone line for viewers who wished to donate to the cause. In response to his story, funds, supplies and equipment—everything from the grill to the booths– were contributed; a Star Laundry branch that had occupied the building relocated; the show’s emcee, Warren Hull, visited to cut the grand-opening ribbon and the Heart Line Restaurant, named in honor of the Strike It Rich Heart Line, was inaugurated. Unfortunately, Boaze died shortly after the opening. Since then, the Heart Line has had several owners, including Hubert and Peggy Hamilton who owned it for 30 years.

On February 12, 1990, when she was only 24 years old, Debra bought the Heart Line. Although she has needed to make some changes — including climbing onto the roof to fix a leak — she has preserved the Heart Line’s character. For instance, she still cooks on the original grill. She admits that it could stand replacing, but it is part of the restaurant’s tradition. The regular customers still come in daily and newcomers are always welcome. As for Debra, despite the hard work and arduous schedule, she says, “I can’t imagine waking up every day and not being here.”

The Heart Line Restaurant, 1817 Riverside Drive, is open Wednesday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from
6:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. For more information, call 434.799.2070.

About The Author