Bill Ward — the man for whom Ward's Restaurant in Eubank is named — is no longer around. The woman who helped him open the down-home eatery, however, is still going strong.
"I've worked every day," said Linda Bumgardner. "I've been here almost 35 years."
That's how long Ward's has been open now, carving out a place in the northern Pulaski community along busy U.S. 27. And it's stuck around so long because of its faithful fans.
"I have regular customers; that's about all I have," said Bumgardner. "Sometimes they're here two or three times a day. Some eat three meals a day with us. Some eat two. Some just eat one. Occasionally we get a stranger in here, we don't know who they are, but not very often."
Certainly, Ward's is no stranger to Pulaski Countians. Bill Ward opened the restaurant in 1985 after having previously operated a truck stop along U.S. 27 a few years earlier.
"I think it was there 14 years. (Ward) sold out of the restaurant business in 1974," said Bumgardner, "until 1985, when local people wanted him to open a restaurant back up."
At the time, Bumgardner was working at the old Palm Beach plant. Ward spoke to her about helping him open the new restaurant.
"I gave my two weeks notice, I said, 'I'm quitting my job, I don't like it no more,'" recalled Bumgardner. And that was that. She went to work with Ward and they operated the restaurant together from February of '85 up until he passed away in January of 2016.
Ward is still fondly remembered in his restaurant. Bumgardner had a framed picture of him ready at hand, and near the door is a large piece of wood reading "Bill Ward's Restaurant," created by the late Ronnie Vaught.
"He asked me before he passed away if I would keep the restaurant open and I said yes," said Bumgardner. "I kept it in his name because everybody knew him."
Bumgardner describes the offerings at Ward's as being "just home-cooked meals." There are specials every day — "One day it's pork tenderloin, one day we have country fried steak," said Bumgardner — as well as a regular menu consisting of items like hamburgers, pork tenderloin, a variety of sandwiches and dinners like hamburger steak, roast beef, shrimp, and baked ham. Every Sunday they have fried chicken, fried in a big black cast-iron skillet.
Also available are breakfast items — bacon, eggs, sausage, "city ham" and "country" ham, pancakes, and biscuits and gravy. All "homemade," as Bumgardner notes, along with popular homemade cream pies.
"Breakfast is our really big meal of the day," she said.
The restaurant does a lot of carry-out orders as well. Frequently, the same area businesses will place a meal order each day, she said.
"I can usually fix breakfast or lunch before they even get in the front door when I see them coming," said Bumgardner, adding with a laugh, "They eat anything I fix and don't say a word about it."
Life at Ward's is made easier by employees who are just as faithful as the customers. Bumgardner has two employees who have been with her for decades — Patricia Grant for almost 20 years, and Helen Poynter for 31 years. Having that kind of reliable help is invaluable, Bumgardner noted.
"It benefits me greatly because nobody wants to work hard," she said. "It's hard to find an employee that will work. Most of the time, when you hire a new employee, they don't show up. It's hard to find a good employee, but I've got two of them right now."
Ward's is open seven days a week, from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m, and Bumgardner remains a fixture there. Some days she enjoys the grind more than others though, but there's a reason Ward's is still around under her care.
"I've got really good customers, and they're the reason I'm still here," she said. "... I like to talk. I like dealing with people."