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Holman reviews 65 years in business

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

Bob Holman says there's no secret recipe for his success.  

His restaurants have been a mainstay in Paducah for 65 years simply because he never served anything he wouldn't eat himself.  

"I always loved to eat," Holman, 88, said during an interview at his Reidland home. "I tried to always fix (food) like I wanted to have it."

The Holmans announced in mid-June that Bob Holman will retire and that the Holman House Cafeteria on Irvin Cobb Drive will close after June 28. Holman said he probably should have stepped down 20 years ago, but he loved the feeling of being right in the middle of the bustling restaurant industry.

"If I'm sitting here by myself, I'm always thinking about the business, and I'm always thinking how I could improve it," Holman said. "I hate to leave it."

Holman's daughter, Regina Vaughn, took the reins at the restaurant about two years ago as it became difficult for Holman to make it out of the house. She said she loves the business, too, but wanted to spend more time with her father.

"It's a hard decision," she said, "but sometimes you have to make those and go with it and think back on the good memories."

Holman got his start in July 1949, when he and his father-in-law, Porter Stubblefield, opened the first Dairy Queen franchise in the area, and possibly in the state. Holman said he had no formal cooking training, but loved serving people good food.

Holman also possesses the mind of an entrepreneur. He thought the family's Dairy Queen on Bridge Street would benefit from adding burgers, fries and sandwiches to the menu, but Dairy Queen told him he couldn't serve anything other than frozen dairy treats under the company's name.

So, Holman said, he knocked a hole in the restaurant's wall and did it anyway. The move proved to be a hit, and the restaurant, now known as Bob's Drive-In, continues to market itself as the oldest drive-in in western Kentucky.

"Even in the Dairy Queen, I liked to do it a little bit better than anybody else," he said. "It always excites me when I can do better today than I did yesterday."

Holman sold the drive-in during the mid-1960s, and opened an Italian restaurant, Roberto's, at 17th and Kentucky in 1966. Another followed on the Southside and operated until 1982.

But Holman says he's most proud of the Holman House, which he first opened with his second wife Linda, along with daughter Bobbi Holman Williams, in the Ritz Hotel in 1987. The restaurant opened another location at the Irvin Cobb Hotel and added catering and private parties to the repertoire. The two closed and consolidated to the Holman House Restaurant on Park Avenue in 1994.

Running the restaurants was a family endeavor. Linda Holman worked mostly in the kitchen after the two married in the early 1980s, while Vaughn started doing the books at the Ritz. Williams was the catering whiz of the family, her father said.

After Williams died in 1996, the Holmans moved again, and the Holman House Cafeteria has operated at its current location on Irvin Cobb Drive for 16 years.

Vaughn said that since the announcement of her father's retirement, customers have lined up outside the door for a taste of their last Italian roast beef sandwich or slice of strawberry pie. Holman touched many lives, she said, and may well have employed half the people on Paducah's Southside during their teenage years.

Longtime employees Marsha Wilkins and Ann Sanders said they're sad to see the restaurant close its doors, but understand why it needs to happen. They remember Holman as a kind man and a stickler for cleanliness, even when it came to cutting slices of homemade pie.

"I love the (Holmans), and I've always loved my job," said Wilkins, who worked for the family for 21 years. "Days fly by here."

Holman said he never took a vacation and is now looking forward to the free time. That doesn't mean he won't miss the restaurant business.  

"Stress?" he said, laughing. "It's a stress from beginning to end. You just have to enjoy it."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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