For years at lunchtime, truck drivers with rumbling bellies called out daily to Edith Campbell on their CB radios, asking for a hearty meal in Chester County – to be waiting when they arrived.
Whether it was a cheeseburger or hotdog, Campbell, who the truckers called “Firecracker,” had the food ready when her customers pulled in at Campbell’s Grill.
The truckers would ask, “Firecracker, do you have any of that coconut cake?” said former daughter-in-law Jerri Campbell Petrarca.
The mom-and-pop eatery and store, owned by Edith and Paul “Bud” Campbell, was always packed, said former regulars of the grill. A few watched last week as the building collapsed into rubble. The business, which opened 67 years ago in the Lewis Turnout community of northern Chester County was demolished.
The big wheels in the parking lot were not driven by hungry truckers. They were there to make room for Lewis fire department’s future expansion, said Lewis assistant fire chief Jay Williams.
“That was the hangout place, just a landmark,” Petrarca said about the restaurant. “That was the hub of the community for so long ... it’s from a different era.”
The Campbells opened a Gulf gas station and convenience store with a grill in 1950 and added the restaurant in 1978.
“She was a fantastic cook,” Petrarca said.
So fantastic that some families ended their tradition of preparing a large Sunday meal, and instead packed the tables at Campbell’s after church, Petrarca said. Sunday lunch was such a big deal, Petrarca said, that Edith would have her hair coiffed every Saturday at 3 p.m.
She also had a daily standing order for fresh meat from the grocery store, Petrarca said. Nothing was frozen.
“Winn-Dixie was her soulmate,” Petrarca said.
Nearby farmers would go to Campbell’s for coffee, and many regulars, like Williams, ate breakfast there every morning.
“Whenever I was down here visiting friends, we could come over here and eat,” Williams said.
Among the favorite dishes at lunch were “the best cheeseburgers in the whole world and the best hotdogs ever,” Petrarca said. For Sunday lunch, she said, the pork roast, ham and vegetables were all the rave.
But the Campbells were more than a popular hangout spot, Petrarca said.
“They were godsends for a lot of people,” Petrarca said.
Edith Campbell would provide food when a member of the community died, and she helped raise children, Petrarca said.
She was a “tiny, petite” and fiesty redhead, which earned her the nickname “Firecracker,” Petrarca said. “She was a little pistol. Everybody was scared of her in a wonderful way.”
Bud Campbell was more passive, she added.
“You could get by with anything” with him, Petrarca said.
Bud Campbell was the Lewis volunteer fire chief for 20 years.
Edith Campbell died in 1996 and Bud in 2002. Their son David Campbell Sr. and his wife, Petrarca, took over the restaurant.
After her husband died, Petrarca ran the restaurant, but sold it in 2008. The store changed hands a couple of times before closing.
That’s when the fire department saw its potential.
With the opening of Carolina Poly and other industries that moved to Chester County, Williams said the department will need emergency equipment and services, and the old Campbell’s Grill site is the perfect spot.
“If it had not been through the efforts of the Campbell family, we would not have been able to make this purchase,” Williams said.
Petrarca said the fire department’s acquisition of the old restaurant was a dream come true.
“They have such wonderful plans,” she said. “This county needs this.”
Tracy Kimball: 803-329-4072