HAMPTON, Va. — Ralph Joyner has been ordering Better Burgers at Smitty’s since the restaurant opened in 1956. He was 11-years-old back then.
“You are looking at generation after generation of people that were raised to come here and eat,” said Joyner.
He said so many people in the Hampton community are in mourning over Thursday morning’s fire.
“I have run into people today, different stores and stuff, tears in their eyes, they couldn’t believe it,” said Joyner.
Paul Smith founded the drive-through when he was 25 years old. Sixty-three years later and it is still family owned.
“It’s emotional. It’s emotional feelings, and not only that, it’s just not hamburgers,” said Joyner.
For many life-long customers, Smitty’s is a second home.
“My daughters worked there. My ex-wife worked there. We have a lot of friends there,” said Richard Weaver.
Weaver lives right next door to the drive-through and eats there three to four times a week. He was ready to risk his own life to save his favorite restaurant.
“My wife woke up this morning around 5:20, and she had already called it in. I said, ‘why didn’t you wake me up earlier,’ so I could maybe go out there and do something,” said Weaver.
Whether it was a gathering place after church, celebrating a birthday, or dinner with the family, Smitty’s is Hampton’s iconic burger shop.
“I’ve seen people come and go but this place has always been there. They’ve always had quality food and quality service, I love coming here,” said Eddie Delph.
Delph has been dining at Smitty’s for so long, he remembers when the servers skated up to the car.
“Back in the day they had roller skate service. That’s how long they’ve been around. They had roller skate service kind of like Doumar’s in Norfolk, very similar to that,” said Delph.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The inside suffered heavy smoke and water damage, but the Smith family said not to worry. They will rebuild and the Better Burger will be better than ever.
“I’m coming back as soon as they reopen," said Delph. "I’ll be back here again."