A Full Cup
This is the kind of place that harkens back to days gone by. It is a throwback to all that is good about America. Going strong for 63 years, Shorty's Donut and Diner is the oldest restaurant in Texarkana. Every Monday through Saturday, beginning at 5:00 a.m., patrons file through the doors of the Texarkana staple. There are no frills or hype at this diner because that would take away from its down-home, what-you-see-is-what-you-get vibe, but customers are guaranteed a piping, hot cup of coffee and breakfast cooked to order by a staff who loves what they do. The tables are filled with a cross-section of Texarkana citizens. Everybody from professionals in suits to moms bringing in kids for a Southern Maid donut to retired gentlemen with a thousand stories gathers at Shorty's every morning to "fill their cup" before their busy day begins.
In 1959, Shorty Whitt, who previously worked for the Southern Maid Flour Company, opened Shorty's Donuts and Diner on Lake Drive. Believing in the company he previously worked for, the diner's literal hot commodity became its Southern Maid Donuts. The donuts were a favorite in the area, as were the daily breakfast food and plate specials sold at lunchtime. Shorty Whitt did well as a restaurant owner and local businessman. In return, the people of Texarkana supported his efforts well.
Several years later, Shorty sold the business to his nephew, Danny Whitt, looking to retire but wanting to keep the diner in the family. The diner then moved to its present-day location in Oaklawn shopping center. Danny, with the help of his brother Ray, a shop teacher at Liberty-Eylau High School, ran the diner for over 20 years, always keeping the Southern Maid Donuts as the restaurant's flagship. The brothers sold breakfast and coffee in the morning and had grill and plate lunch specials at noon, a tradition that continues to this day. Shorty's Diner was a lucrative business for the second generation of Whitts, and they were proud to offer their services to their hometown of Texarkana.
In 2014, a young woman named Anna Allgor moved to Texarkana. She was down on her luck and attended weekly AA meetings at another building in the Oaklawn shopping center. She needed a job and would see Shorty's diner every time she walked out of a meeting. Mustering up the courage, she walked through the diner's doors and begged Danny Whitt for a job. Danny hired Anna as a waitress; unbeknownst to her at the time, Shorty's would become her home. She came to love the place. Not knowing a soul in town, the diner's staff became her family. She found that her heart was in serving other people. She enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life. She began to laugh again with the customers who frequented Shorty's and those just passing through. "This place pulled me out of a really bad time in my life," Anna recalled. Over the next couple of years, Anna got back on her feet, saved a little money, and became a productive member of her new town while learning about the restaurant business from Mr. Whitt.
2017 brought about significant changes for Shorty's Diner and Anna. Danny Whitt was looking to retire and needed a buyer for the business. It just so happened that Dave White, Chief Lending Officer for Farmer's Bank and Trust, was a frequent patron there. While pouring his coffee one fateful morning, Anna asked Mr. White what the process was for getting a loan because she wanted to buy the diner. Mr. White told Anna to be at the bank the next day to complete the necessary paperwork. The young woman who asked Danny Whitt for a job a few years before became the new owner of Shorty's Donuts and Diner.
Since buying the business, Anna says that Danny Whitt has never left her side. "He is retired, but he is always there for advice. He never left my side since he hired me as a waitress even after I bought the diner." Anna went to Danny several times in the past couple of years due to circumstances completely out of her control. Enter COVID.
Anna said that the diner began selling Pittsburg Hot Links at the beginning of March 2020 and, just like the Southern Maid Donuts all those years ago, the hot links were a hit in Texarkana. Overall, business at the time was booming! The diner was doing so well that Anna's husband quit his job to help her run the business. Two weeks after the diner began selling Pittsburg Hot Links, they were forced to close due to the pandemic. Like many self-employed business owners, the unexpected situation threw the Allgors for a loop. "I felt like and still feel like God gave me this place. I had to find a way to keep it open. I had employees and their families to think about."
What COVID did not know is that Anna Allgor is an overcomer. She set up a makeshift daycare with playpens and high chairs inside the restaurant because daycares were closed. Anna and her staff brought their young children to the diner while Shorty's was operated exclusively from the drive-through window. Anna and her employees cooked up the full menu and fixed just about anything a customer ordered if they had the ingredients on the shelves. She soon realized that the decision to sell the Pittsburg Hot Links was a good business decision. Between those, the trusty Southern Maid Donuts, and a lot of determination, Shorty's was able to stay afloat until the storm passed, and the diner's doors re-opened.
Unfortunately, there are usually several storms in this life, and Shorty's Diner is no exception to those storms. Like every business trying to survive the current economy, times are tough. The restaurant has been forced to increase its prices to cover food costs. Anna worries about it all the time. Many of her customers are on a fixed income, and she knows that the price increases in every area of her customers' lives, including food, hit them hard. Plus, being a mom-and-pop business without the backing of a national franchise name works against the diner in the cost area, but the diner's unique hometown atmosphere is hard to find these days. So, the diner and their fearless leader keep going.
It is enjoyable to sit at Shorty's Diner and experience the real-time scene. There are clanking dishes, hot and fresh food delivered to the tables, and customers are greeted by their first names when they walk through the doors. Courtney Coody, Anna's sister-in-law, works the cash register and waits tables. Amy Lashley is the donut cook. Randy Patterson is the dishwasher and has been there since Anna was hired. Anna commented that the staff is like family to her, "This has never been like coming to a job. I have never once dreaded coming to work. This place is where I learned to really live my life. I want everybody who comes through those doors to feel like family here because that's what Shorty's is to me."
Across the diner, I spy old timers sitting at what has to be most certainly, their regular table. They enjoy the coffee, but even more, they enjoy giving the waitress a hard time. "Oh, that bunch sits over there and solves the world's problems," Anna said of the table. If one of the world's problem solvers does not show up for their regular morning coffee, Anna texts or calls to check on them because that is what Shorty's is all about. It is a hometown diner that has gotten to know its patrons by providing friendly service and great food to generations of Texarkana residents. It is a place where you are sure to get a smile and leave with more than your coffee cup running over.