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Swingle's celebrates second year on the square

Friday, July 27, 2012

Every table was taken on Thursday, July 19 as Steven Swingle and Keisha King threw a party to celebrate the second anniversary of Swingle's Family Diner. Swingle said good food at reasonable prices brings people in, but loyal customers keep the restaurant on the Salem square going. Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
When a new restaurant opened in the oldest building on the Salem square in July of 2010, many skeptics predicted it would not be around long.

"Their prices are too high," some said.

"Restaurants never make it in that building," others said.

But two years to the day they opened, the owners of Swingle's Family Diner threw a party to thank their customers for 24 months of success.

"We have some really good customers," Keisha King said, during the July 19 bash, inside and outside the restaurant. "A lot of them, I see every day. I can usually predict what they will order to eat and drink."

"I didn't even think about not making it," Steven Swingle said. "I'm from here, so a lot of people know me -- I've met everybody around here at least once, and am related to a lot of them," he laughed.

Swingle and King bought the old stone building on the west end of the south side of the square, along with Steven's father, Steven Sr. The building needed a lot of work, but Swingle and King say they weren't worried about filling it up with diners. The restaurant they operated in Bentonville seated more than 400. Now, that was a challenge.

"I had three 16-foot grills at the other restaurant," Swingle said. "I like it here, with just one grill. I don't have to pre-cook anything. I can cook to order as I go."

"I've been around here for 10 years, and know a lot of restaurants have come and gone, but they've got the best food, and the best waitresses in town," Dave Campbell said, as he watched kids play in a bouncy house and waited for the band to play at Swingle's two year anniversary party in front of the restaurant.

The crowd was small early on, because a thunderstorm blew through in the late afternoon. But, inside the restaurant, every seat was taken.

"See Brother John over there?" Melba Pitchford said, pointing to First Baptist Minister John Hodges, a couple of tables away. "He was in here the last time I ate here."

Another regular, Mayor Gary Clayton, was at his favorite table by a front window.

"Over the years, this building has been a lumber yard, a milking supply store, a junk store, a cable TV office and who knows what else," Clayton said. He added, while people talk about all the restaurants that have failed in the building, it has just been in recent years that it was used as a restaurant.

When he first opened up, Swingle said he would succeed with good food at reasonable prices, and that is still the theory today.

"When we opened, I heard people were saying the prices were too high, but I knew they would hush up when they started tasting the food, and saw what they would get for their money," King said.

"You never saw so much breakfast," Jody Campbell added. "They always give you a lot of food."

After people ate reduced price anniversary specials, many moved outside to hear live music, visit and take cover when a water ballon fight broke out.

While Keisha is used to cities like Bentonville and Fayetteville, Steven doesn't miss the city-life a bit.

"The cost of living is a lot cheaper here," Swingle said. "I need trees and good people, like we have around here. Our life revolves around work and kids."

Swingle's only disappointment has been efforts to expand the diner's schedule of breakfast and lunch into the dinner hour.

"We have had a good business when we've been open in the evenings. We've just had trouble getting help to run it at night," Swingle said. "I'm training another cook right now."

Swingle praised two great employees he's had since opening -- Melissa Bitting and Chris Stevens.

Swingle's career as a cook and restauranteur began when he was seven or eight, and would wash dishes at Katie's Corner on Main Street at Highway 395.

"My dad worked there as a cook, and I remember standing on a pickle bucket to be able to reach down into the sink and get the dishes out," Swingle said.

"I knew they would pull it off when I heard Stevie and dad were both going to be involved," Swingle's sister, Shonda Gross, said.

"I like his food. He's good at it," added Shonda's daughter, Nikki. "Hash browns, hamburgers, baked potatoes and chicken salad," was her reply, when asked what she liked best on the menu.

New friends and old friends and relatives, relaxing at the restaurant's street party, hope the good food and good times continue.

"We didn't really have a place to eat downtown before they opened," Pitchford said. "I think they have helped the other businesses that are opening. They've been good for the square."

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