Mayberry Restaurant throws birthday bash for loyal 98-year-old customer

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 05:10 PM

Mayberry Ice Cream Restaurant doesn’t throw a birthday bash for just anybody.
But then, 98-year-old Helen Starnes isn’t just anybody at Mayberry. She’s the High Point institution’s most loyal customer — a veritable Mayberry maven — and she’s held the title for decades.
“She’s so much a regular here that if she doesn’t come in, it’s like, is she OK?” said Rita Rankin, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Mike, and who has treated Starnes to a birthday party for the past several years.
Here’s how regular a customer Starnes is:
For at least the past 30 years, possibly longer, she’s been eating lunch at Mayberry six days a week, occasionally seven. She shows up right around noon and orders the same thing practically every day: Grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough bread, with a side of chips and a ranch dip, topped off with a scoop of peach ice cream.
Thursday’s lunch, however, came with one addition — a large sheet cake, prepared by Rankin and adorned with roses.
“Anybody in the restaurant that wants birthday cake can have a piece,” Rankin said, “and Helen makes sure they get a piece.”
The restaurant was decorated with balloons and other party favors, and a chalkboard welcomed Starnes with the greeting, “Happy Birthday, Miss Helen!!!” The marquee outside Mayberry also paid tribute to Starnes’ 98th birthday, which officially was Wednesday.
A couple dozen family members and friends, some from out of town, joined Starnes for the celebration.
“We’ve been doing this since she turned about 92,” Rankin said. “It just started as an impromptu party to say happy birthday. The next year I started with the cake, and the party just kept getting bigger and bigger each year, with more people coming.”
When Starnes arrived Thursday — right around noon, of course — she was greeted with hugs, applause and well wishes.
“This is just absolutely wonderful,” she said. “I don’t know of any way it could be better. I love Rita — I’ve loved her from the time I met her — and this is really fun. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Starnes, who was featured this month in an Our State magazine article about Mayberry, said she got some wonderful presents for her birthday, but the best gift of all? Several friends gave her Mayberry “Parlor Passes” — gift cards to her favorite restaurant.
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579