Ken’s Corner Grill closes after more than 48 years in Smyrna

Ken's Corner Grill closed it door on Saturday, after more than 48 years in the Smyrna community. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

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Ken's Corner Grill closed it door on Saturday, after more than 48 years in the Smyrna community. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Ken’s Corner Grill, a Smyrna institution, has been cracking eggs, flipping burgers, and making locals feel at home for nearly 50 years. Last Saturday, the business closed its doors.

The restaurant off Atlanta Road has been a spot where residents have flocked since its opening in 1973. Many customers have been eating at Ken’s for years, as was evident when regulars gave hugs and goodbyes to some of the staff.

Due to his age and other circumstances, longtime owner Ken Johnston, 85, decided to close up shop. Acknowledging the restaurant’s impact on the city, Johnston was given a proclamation of recognition by Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton at Monday’s City Council meeting.

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Ken Johnston has been the owner of Ken's Corner Grill for more than 48 years. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

Ken Johnston has been the owner of Ken's Corner Grill for more than 48 years. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

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Ken Johnston has been the owner of Ken's Corner Grill for more than 48 years. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

Credit: Leo Tochterman

“Ken’s Corner Grill has been a Smyrna landmark for nearly 50 years with a tradition of serving good homestyle food, at a fair price, in a family atmosphere,” the proclamation reads. “Ken’s has been a part of many Smyrna residents’ lives as they celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, or just being a place to see and visit with friends and neighbors fortunate to have had so many great, loyal customers, as well as staff, and we are proud they have called Smyrna home for the past 49 years.”

Speaking to the Marietta Daily Journal, Johnston said he was grateful for his nearly half a century of owning the restaurant.

“We’ve done really well with it over the years,” he said. “This is a hometown place. Most people here we see here three or four times a week. If we don’t see our customers after a while, we start to get worried.”

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The restaurant’s interior is your quintessential American diner: counter and booth seating with walls lined with old Atlanta Braves photos and other throwback pictures.

Johnston said part of the restaurant’s popularity in town was related to the consistent and long-tenured wait staff. Johnston said the restaurant used to have staff that remained for decades in some cases, but in recent years, inflation and the pandemic have made employee turnover higher than he’d like. Pre-pandemic it was open 24 hours, but due to the staffing shortage, Ken’s ended its late night hours.

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A cook at Ken's Corner Grill in Smyrna puts the finishing touches on an order. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

A cook at Ken's Corner Grill in Smyrna puts the finishing touches on an order. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

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A cook at Ken's Corner Grill in Smyrna puts the finishing touches on an order. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

Credit: Leo Tochterman

A customer from Smyrna who declined to share his name attended Ken’s for more than 40 years. He said he would miss the family atmosphere of the place.

“It’s a clean place, and the food is always fresh, and the people that wait on you always seem to get to know you once you have come in a few times,” he said.

The restaurant, run by Johnston and managed by his daughter Vickie Gordon, was initially one of five Atlanta-area Huddle House franchises Johnston operated. It operated under that name for more than 30 years, changing to its current name in 2005, once Johnston’s franchisee contract with Huddle House expired.

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Charles Rhodes of Smyrna, who has been eating at the restaurant for more than 25 years, leaned on the comfortable, family atmosphere Ken’s provides after his wife died in 2017.

“This turned into my home, my church, family, everything. I could come here when I couldn’t get anybody else to listen to me and get a hug,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes, who was eating at the counter, was sentimental, soaking up his time at a place he felt at home.

“You only find a place like this once in a lifetime, and this was it. This was my place to come. I am lost now,” Rhodes said. “This place was where I could go when I couldn’t go anywhere else. After the close, I’ll be traveling the long way around, so I don’t have to see it.”

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Owner of Ken's Corner Grill, Ken Johnston, and his daughter and restaurant manger, Vickie, closed the doors on the restaurant after more than 48 years in Smyrna. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

Owner of Ken's Corner Grill, Ken Johnston, and his daughter and restaurant manger, Vickie, closed the doors on the restaurant after more than 48 years in Smyrna. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

caption arrowCaption
Owner of Ken's Corner Grill, Ken Johnston, and his daughter and restaurant manger, Vickie, closed the doors on the restaurant after more than 48 years in Smyrna. (Courtesy of Leo Tochterman)

Credit: Leo Tochterman

Credit: Leo Tochterman

Johnston said while the business was by no means failing, rising inflation costs and his age were enough to call it quits. He sold the building to a local developer who will knock it down and convert the property into offices. He made sure to note that the restaurant’s business was “still good,” and he wasn’t forced to sell.

“I’ve got mixed emotions. I really don’t want to close, but the timing was right for me,” Johnston said.


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Credit: Marietta Daily Journal

Credit: Marietta Daily Journal

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