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Bantam Chef in Marion celebrates 50 years on Saturday.
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Bantam Chef in Marion celebrates 50 years on Saturday.

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On Saturday, a much loved Marion eatery will celebrate 50 years of serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to satisfied patrons.

Bantam Chef in Marion was started in 1971 and has remained at the same location at 1116 Rutherford Road all of that time. For 50 years, folks have come there to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This Saturday, Bantam Chef in Marion is not only celebrating its 50th anniversary but also the 135th birthday for Coca-Cola. In addition, May 8 was V-E Day when the Allies won the victory in Europe during World War II.

“This year it all fell together and we have May 8 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bantam Chef,” said former owner Tony Panou.

All day on Saturday, Bantam Chef will give away free soft drinks to celebrate its anniversary and Coke’s birthday. DriveSouth, a bluegrass band, will perform at 4 p.m.

When Bantam Chef was started in 1971, many of its customers were in the East Marion community, which was dominated by Marion Manufacturing Co. Rebecca Stroud, who has worked at Bantam Chef for 29 years, said she remembers delivering meals to the Marion Manufacturing employees and later to the workers at the Marion Correctional Institution.

“You can categorize this place as a workingman’s eatery,” said Panou.

He added he is not sure who owned and ran the restaurant in the 1970s and early 1980s. But from 1988 to 1990, it was owned by Greg Bohoris. Sam Tsolias took over the business in 1990 and owned it until Panou acquired it in 2000.

Panou owned and ran the Bantam Chef from 2000 to 2019. In September 2019, he sold the business to George Eleftheriadis, who like Panou has Greek heritage.

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“It’s been a small businesses in the same spot, in the same address,” said Panou. “It’s an old fashioned locally owned fast food restaurant. Nothing has changed. The menu is still the same.”

When Panou was the owner, he started a recycling effort at Bantam Chef. In June 2009, he approached Hospice of McDowell County Inc. with a funding proposal, and in July 2009 a phenomenal partnership was formed that as of 2017 culminated into more than $23,000 in donations to CarePartners Hospice & Palliative Care of McDowell.

Tony and his Bantam Chef team’s proposal revolved around recycling. They would recycle aluminum cans for cash and encourage customers to help them. A sign in the restaurant reads, “If you and/or your company drink canned drinks, but not enough to recycle yourself, we ask that you drop them off at the Bantam Chef Restaurant.”

Panou also added another feature at Bantam Chef in November 2018. It can be found on a wall outside the restaurant.

“Light Among Equals” is intended to pay honor to all those who have served in the military, including those dating back to ancient times. It is a timeline for veterans, said Panou in 2018.

The artwork depicts Jesus Christ, the Middle Ages and the Knights Templar. It includes George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, abolitionist Harriett Tubman, Geronimo and the Statue of Liberty. There are symbolic figures representing the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and today’s ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The time line also features John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King, the Rev. Billy Graham and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, this same artwork is on display on a wall in downtown Old Fort. Panou has donated 46 smaller version of “Light Among Equals” to fire departments and public buildings in McDowell, Burke and Buncombe counties.

All of this is a testament to not only a great restaurant but a business that gives back to its community.

“To have the same business in the same place for 50 years it’s an honor and a privilege to be in a community that is supported us,” said Panou to The McDowell News. “And we thank everyone for all these years of supporting us and letting us have the opportunity to serve them.”

I’m just very honored and proud to be here,” said Eleftheriadis, the current owner.

For more information about Bantam Chef, visit the Facebook page:

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