Frances Whitley’s restaurant is a place for good food and good people

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 24, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Frances Turner Whitley came to Suffolk from Isle of Wight County – Windsor to be exact – and found not only a career, but a life she dearly loves.

Whitley had worked for banks for much of her younger life, but with two children to rear, she found serving plates of food paid far more than banking.

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One of her first jobs was waitressing at the now defunct Conway’s Restaurant out on Route 58. Later, in the 1970s, she went to work for &uot;Bunny’s Family Restaurant.&uot; There is hardly a native of Suffolk who didn’t know &uot;Miss Bunny&uot; and her down-home country cookin’, and there are just about as many who instantly recognize Miss Frances, operator of The Dining Room. She took over the facility three years ago.

The Dining Room is one of Suffolk’s hidden treasures, just like its sister restaurant, the Red Apple Truck Stop. The Dining Room is tucked away at the end of Pinner Street, just off Constance Road, but once people discover the country-style cuisine they keep going back for more. That’s because of Whitley’s commitment to serve the best quality foods she can prepare. She also has a top-notch wait staff that works with smiles on their faces and plenty of iced tea and coffee in their hands.

&uot;I loved waiting on tables and serving people at Bunny’s and then at the Red Apple where my husband, Donald, operates the restaurant.&uot; said Whitley. &uot;I did it up until my health prevented me from it, but here at The Dining Room, I stay mostly back in the kitchen making the pastries for our customers. I still come out to see them though since so many of them are old friends who come here from the Red Apple and Bunny’s.&uot;

Restaurants are the lifeblood of the Whitley family, and it seems appropriate since the couple met in a restaurant.

&uot;I met Donald at Conway’s Truck Stop when I was waitressing,&uot; said Whitley. &uot;He was a trucker who stopped in there to eat whenever he was passing through. It was sort of a storybook romance…our meeting that way and we are still together in the restaurant business after all these years. Of course, he gave up the road for me and good country cookin’.&uot;

Whitley said she has one regret in life – she can no longer wait tables.

&uot;If you love to do something, it’s hard to give it up,&uot; she said. &uot;I loved it and I never met a customer I didn’t like. You get some that are aggravating, but it was always a challenge to make them smile.&uot;

Anyone who hasn’t met Whitley or tried the southern-style foods available at the Dining Room should make it a point to stop by on a Friday night. That’s when patrons are treated to another little secret – live music and dancing in romantic lighting.

&uot;The band we have used to play at Miss Bunny’s, and when she passed away I asked them to come to play for us on Friday evenings,&uot; said Whitley. &uot;We used to have a ball at Bunny’s when she would get out on the dance floor with me and we had a ball! Now, we are enjoying that same good time here at The Dining Room and our customers love the music and dancing and the food, of course.&uot;

What does a restaurateur do when she’s finished her shift? Whitley said nothing is better than heading straight to her husband’s restaurant where she sits with friends and enjoys a cup of coffee. There is only one year and eight months left to enjoy The Dining Room. Whitley is retiring then, leaving patrons to find another place where there is great food, good friends, music and dancing and memories to be made.