deb abraham spalding
While America, the world, and our local community was learning how to social distance and quarantine last spring as the Coronavirus Pandemic changed our way of living, Sherry and Rob Myers and staff members at the Thurmont Kountry Kitchen Restaurant stepped up to provide meals for kids in Northern Frederick County. For several months, the Kountry Kitchen team served between 125 and 170 bagged meals per day. This endeavor allowed those impacted by these times to stop by the restaurant in Thurmont or the Vigilant Hose Company Fire House in Emmitsburg to pick up a bagged lunch for free.
Sherry said, “We know that a lot of the kids rely on meals they get in school and could go hungry without them. My employees didn’t care about the risk of COVID-19 to themselves, we just wanted to do something to help out the community.”
This project would take money and resources that Sherry didn’t know if she had the ability to provide on her own, since her life and business was impacted by the pandemic as well. She “just knew we had to do it.” Soon, both food and monetary donations emerged as the community supported the mission.
Sherry beamed, “You don’t really know how loyal your customers are until something happens like COVID. They really stepped up! It’s inspiring.”
Putting her hands out in expression, she added, “It made a world of difference for many families. The kids really appreciated the kind gesture. They made Muppets from their lunch bags and gave them to us as a sign of their appreciation.”
“It just proves that if you set the example, others will follow.”
It is through this selfless commitment to a mission of service that Sherry; Rob; their children Bobby, Nick, and Jayden; and the Kountry Kitchen employees have maintained an impactful community business for the past 36 years. Sherry explained, “The Kountry Kitchen started in 1984 when Dad brought life to my Mom’s dream of owning her own restaurant.”
Sherry’s mom and dad are the late Pat and Roger Ridenour. These two iconic locals were fixtures at their business. Prior to opening, Pat worked at Gentleman Jim’s (now Carriage House Inn) in Emmitsburg as a line cook, and Roger was a shoemaker at the Freeman Shoe Company in Emmitsburg.
In the beginning, Pat, her mother Olive Misner, and a waitress dug in tirelessly to run the new business. Pat and Roger’s children, Sherry, Tracy (Boyd), and Andrea (Shafer) helped in various ways. New staff members were added as the business grew. Shortly after, Roger resigned from his full-time job to concentrate on the growing venture. Sherry reminisced, “Mom and I trained him [Dad/Roger] to be a grill cook. He was one of the best we ever had.”
While working the grill behind the counter, Roger became a friend to many, carrying on conversations that would last a lifetime. Sherry recalls that her dad “served as lawyer, doctor, psychiatrist, and friend.” In the beginning, the restaurant was open 24 hours on weekends to accommodate a robust party crowd that would meet up after a night out in Thurmont at Skippers, Blue Mountain Inn, Texas Lunch, or Tommy’s Tavern. There was a counter in the main room with bar stools, a video game, a juke box; it was heated with a woodstove that was positioned prominently in the middle of the room. Sherry exclaimed, “We had so much fun!”
Pat was always a socialite. She would sit at the table with her customers and talk. She loved carrying on with the kids, often greeting them with a hug. Pat’s dream had become reality! Pat emanated happiness and was greatly satisfied to host her Kountry Kitchen family.
In addition to being the business owner and the socialite, Pat was a life-long culinary student. Sherry and Tracy estimate that Pat collected as many as 15,000 cookbooks. In Pat and Roger’s home, Roger had renovated a bank vault by installing bookshelves to accommodate Pat’s culinary library.
Kountry Kitchen diners often have a standard favorite order ranging from specialty sandwiches to salad, but it’s important to note that the menu is very extensive. At one point, Pat presented the menu in one-inch binders, complete with the latest of her newsletters and a copy of an article about the restaurant’s most recent Broasted® Chicken award!
Over the years, unique menu items have come and gone at Kountry Kitchen, “We’ve named things like ‘Joshua the Constipator’ because Joshua [a former cook] put every kind of cheese we had on it. Another is ‘Big John’s Whaler,’” Sherry grinned, “That was interesting!”
Sherry explains that a top seller is Hog Maw. The community looks forward to it as a special, and it sells out fast. Slippery Pot Pie sells fast, too. Puddin’ and scrapple are standard on the menu.
Recently, the Kountry Kitchen was designated to serve the Best Broasted® Chicken in the State of Maryland by MSN News. Back in 2004, Pat purchased what soon became her prized possession, her Broaster! It became one of the best purchases they ever made, as Broasted Chicken continues to be a best-seller at the restaurant. The Broaster produces great chicken that is “plump, succulent, and good to the bone.” Sherry said their chicken sales since COVID-19 are unbelievable. They actually had to purchase a second Broaster to keep up with the amount of orders. She explained, “Our chicken is fresh; it’s not put in hold ever! It takes about 20-25 minutes. It’s well worth the wait.”
It’s a fact that while Kountry Kitchen’s mission of community service is important, it has repeatedly proven that the food and flavor keep the customers coming back.
Pat and Roger made changes to the restaurant to make way for new regulations and business growth. First, the old woodstove was removed from the dining area, ending a long-standing early morning tradition of getting the woodstove going and setting up for Roger by Bob ‘Bear’ Sharrer, Daddy Ridenour, and Cutter Eyler. “They were here every day! They were so loyal,” Sherry shared.
Next, the video game and juke box were removed to create more seating. Then, an addition was added in 1999 that ended an era. Roger and his grill were relocated from the main dining area to the new kitchen in the addition. With this change, Pat could still be seen making her social rounds in the dining room, but it took more effort to see and talk with Roger.
In 2000, a final addition was made. A second dining room, dubbed the Rideau Room, was added on the back of the building. The Rideau Room was named after the Rideau Inn in Ocean City, Maryland, where Pat and Roger stayed on their honeymoon.
Roger passed quietly in his sleep in 2014. This was a turning point for the business, as Sherry and Rob had already stepped in more to help run it. Pat started having conversations about Sherry and Rob buying the business. This took place as Pat became increasingly saddened by the loss of Roger. Pat became ill in May of 2019, and after a long battle at The University Of Maryland, she passed in July of 2019. “Knowing that mom and dad worked so hard to build my mom’s dream is very gratifying. Mom always liked seeing the repeat generations of customers. Adults who were once customers as kids would bring their kids to share the experience that they once had as a child.”
Now, with Sherry and Rob owning and operating the business, they are supported by their family and many committed and talented staff members who serve an amazing array of grateful customers. About her customers, Sherry said they have become friends. For instance, “Dottie Ramsburg sat next to me on a stool at the counter 36 years ago when I was a young kid. We started up a conversation, and now we’re best friends,” Sherry explained. The original bar stool Dottie sat on at the L-shaped counter was given to Dottie as a gift. Sherry added, “When she comes in now, she’ll joke that someone’s sitting at her table. Miss Dot will always hold a special place in my heart. She’s more than a customer; she’s become family and a great friend.”
Sherry recalled that when her daughter, Jayden, was really sick, they were in financial despair. They connected with the Patty Polatos Fund, and Debbie Williams, the administrator of that charity, encouraged Sherry to let them help. Sherry said, “The community came out for us. We raised over $6,000 from a bake sale that helped pay Jayden’s medical bills. The community still supports us, and we’ll be there for them for many years to come. Like grandma said, “You reap what you sew!”
This memory inspired another. Sherry reminisced, “One day Debbie [Williams] came in after church and asked for breakfast an hour after we stopped serving breakfast. Sherry, knowing that Debbie had a phenomenal voice, said, ‘Tell her if she’ll sing Amazing Grace, I’ll cook her breakfast.’ Sure enough, Debbie stood right in the kitchen and sang to me. It brought tears to my eyes!”
Today, with tighter restrictions due to COVID-19, take-out is outselling dine-in. Sherry admits that things have been challenging through the pandemic, trying to keep everyone safe and following all the guidelines. Now, the problem is, “We’re lacking help.” Our loyal employees have really stepped up and have been working hard to fill in the gaps.
Sherry and Rob rewarded their employees who worked from day one during COVID, without missing a day, with what she calls, a “COVID Bonus.” She said, “That was a power booster for us,” and explained, “Last month, we had the highest sales month we’ve ever had over 36 years in business, even with Colorfest being canceled. We are extremely grateful!”
Sherry is filled with hope, commitment, and drive. “I’d like to thank each and every one of you who have stuck with us. It must be commended that our employees have stepped up in every way they can. It hasn’t always been easy, and they’ve stuck with us through the good and bad times. Thanks for your dedication and continued support. We would like to thank our customers for being our friends, family, and our favorite people. You are the heart of our business. Your loyalty and continued patronage over the years is greatly appreciated. Without you, there would be no us!”
The Kountry Kitchen is located at 17 Water Street in Thurmont. The dining room is open with limited seating at 50 percent. Call for take-out at 301-271-4071. If the line is busy or rings and rings, keep trying.
Congratulations to the Kountry Kitchen Family for all of your successes, your service, and your unwavering commitment to our community. Happy Wedding Anniversary to Sherry and Rob for 30 years in November!
Owners Rob and Sherry Myers are shown in the kitchen at Thurmont Kountry Kitchen.
Sherry Myers (right) is shown with her parents, Pat and Roger Ridenour, in the kitchen at Thurmont Kountry Kitchen.
Pictured left are Brian Toms, Joey Miller, Marsala McKissick, Betty Mowdy, and Dottie Ramsburg.
The other photos show the exterior and interior of Kountry Kitchen in the earlier days, with the old woodstove, juke box, and video game.