Generations have created memories at the iconic Sanford restaurant
When Sanford residents awoke to the news that the Fairview Dairy Bar had burned down, a question began circulating through the community — “Where are we going to eat tonight?”
From the day in December in 1953 when Pokey Fulton opened the bar up until Tuesday evening, the Dairy Bar was a staple of Lee County cooking, culture and conversation.
On Friday nights, that’s where everybody went after football games,” said Sanford Chamber of Commerce President Bob Joyce, who has frequented the establishment since he was a child. “As a teenager, that was the place to hang out. For generations of people, that was the place to go after church. It was where families gathered.”
Joyce described what he called the Dairy Bar’s “legendary breakfast crowd,” which he said would meet and debate the topics of the day.
“There were issues discussed,” Joyce said. “People made up their minds as to what they were going to support in the great decisions for our community over breakfast at the Dairy Bar.”
‘The local place’
Sammy Poe, owner of Four Seasons Florist in Sanford, said the Dairy Bar served his family as a second dining room.
“Not counting to-go orders, we head over there four or five times a week,” he said. “It’s a social thing. We might stay another hour in there, after we finish our meal, just talking. If you ever go in there and don’t see anybody you know, something is wrong.”
Poe said the Dairy Bar helped bring together “a good blend of all types of people,” and that everyone always felt comfortable during their visits.
Added Sanford resident Buddy Keller, “You see people from all walks of life in there.”
“And any politician that comes to Sanford always goes to the Dairy Bar, because thats where he’s going to see the Sanford folks,” Keller said. “You see everybody from the lawyers and judges to the construction workers and everybody in between.”
Keller said he is amazed at how little the Dairy Bar has changed over the years. It has moved to a new location and seen new owners; people have come and gone, and the city has grown and developed around it. But Keller said the atmosphere, the essence, of the Dairy Bar remains the same as the day it was built.
“It’s one of those things,” he said. You grow up in a town, and you like things to stay the same. It’s one of the few things that has stayed the same. You could depend on the Dairy Bar. It was the local place.”
“If you don’t like people, it’s not the place for you,” said Woody Seymour, a Sanford-based attorney, of the Dairy Bar.
Seymour said he was heartbroken when he heard the news that the Dairy Bar had burned down.
“It’s just a very sad day for me,” he said. “It was an integral part of Sanford. It opened when I was a little boy. I’ve had the Dairy Bar my whole life.”
Oscar Keller, Buddy’s father, said he has been taking his family to the Dairy Bar since it opened.
“I’ve got four generations going there,” he said, “children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. We’re going to miss it.”
Sanford Mayor Chet Mann called the restaurant an “institution in Sanford” and said he had been dining there since he was young.
“It’s a place we went with sports teams,” he said. “It’s a place I take my kids. It’s a place for my grandmother and her friends to go and talk. I’m jut kind of devastated. There’s a lot of people scratching their heads right now wondering where they’re going to eat.”
Sanford resident Jamie Kelly referred to the Dairy Bar as the original Facebook, one that involved actually being face to face.
“Everybody would find out what was going on the last couple days around town,” he said. “I hope they definitely rebuild and continue that kind of atmosphere. We’re a very tight-knit community, and the Dairy Bar added to the fabric of that knit.”
‘One of a kind’
The fire was a total loss, according to the Fairview Dairy Bar’s Facebook page, which said the rebuilding process, which already is under way, will take at least five or six months.
Seymour said the fire made him think of Pokey Fulton.
“You had to know Pokey Fulton to know the Dairy Bar,” Seymour said. “He talked fast. He moved fast. You had to see him at work. He really, really, really moved.
“He was a big Duke fan, but State fans and Carolina fans loved him, too.”
Seymour said he has been eating at least once a week at the Dairy Bar for as long as he can remember, and that the changes in ownership and staff never have taken away from the aura created by its founder.
“Pokey was one of a kind,” Seymour said. “This is his baby, and I’m really hurting for that. He put his whole life into this place. He’s been gone a number of years. I think about all the photographs of him on the walls.
“Fire just has a way of ... It can’t erase memories, but it really does affect you. Right now, I’ve just got a prevailing sense of sadness today, and I will for some time. I feel like I’ve lost a big part of my life over the years.”