The average life span of a restaurant is two years, unless you really know what you are doing. Harry Schwartz must have known what he was doing when he opened Harry’s Hamburger Barn located at 317 Garrison Ave, Fort Smith, AR 72901, because this restaurant became a Fort Smith institution that fed the River Valley for over 30 years. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and for Harry’s Hamburger Barn that will occur at the end of August when the restaurant will close its doors permanently.
Restaurant closures are normally well publicized, however Harry’s closing has been a guarded secret. The reason has to do with owner Shaney Salsman’s desire not to become mired down with the bad, but rather to focus on the good as long as possible. This examiner had the chance to sit down with Ms. Salsman last week to discuss Harry’s closure. The owner pointed out that the reason the restaurant is closing has to do with a provision in the lease which gave the owner the option of turning the building over to his next of kin in lieu of renewing the lease. So after 33 years, Harry’s will close, however for those who have made Harry’s a part of their lives since the restaurant opened during the Reagan era Harry’s will live on in the memories made on those weekend nights long ago.
One look inside Harry’s and you can see history come alive in the restaurant. The restaurant played host to some of today’s biggest celebrities. Ms. Salsman recalled that Rascal Flatts came in to eat during their up-and-coming years. She also talked about the time that Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding Jr. came in while they were filming The Tuskegee Airmen, as well as Rob Lowe’s appearance at the restaurant during the mid-1980s while he was filming a movie. While these celebrity encounters were noteworthy, the real memories were the ones made by the regulars who would routinely come in for one of Harry’s delicious burgers. Ms. Salsman told a story about a man who proposed to his wife in one of the booths and came back 20 years later to relive the night with his wife. This was one of many events to occur at Harry’s over the years, because for the longest time Harry’s Hamburger Barn was the place to be. “It used to be the happening hot spot. This was before Applebee’s and Friday’s and Chili’s and stuff like that, but the crowd has kind of moved the Rogers way and now it is moving towards Chaffee Crossing,” Ms. Salsman said.
Despite the appearance of chains like Applebee’s, Chili’s, TGI Fridays and others which helped to create Restaurant Row on the eastern end of Rogers Avenue, Harry’s still managed to hold its own. Many still flocked to Harry’s Hamburger Barn during the busy summer season. Most recently, Harry’s was one of the Garrison Avenue businesses that opened its doors to Fort Smith’s first biker rally. “They were the nicest folks you could ever meet. The crowd that came was different than the ones from Bikes Blues and BBQ… They were the older ones not quite as crazy. There were a few crazy ones there always is.” The owner said. “It was a good weekend. They were very nice very patient. The food took about 40 minutes. The line was that long and it never stopped.” Despite the hectic weekend, Ms. Salsman felt that it was a good weekend for customers and staff alike.
When asked what she intends to do next, Ms. Salsman becomes quiet. While she is definitely weighing her options, the owner of Harry’s is taking it slow and does not want to rush into anything. Right now, Shaney Salsman is focusing on Harry’s farewell party which will be held on Friday August 29, 2015. This get-together will give fans of Harry’s young and old to share their favorite memories and enjoy Harry’s hamburgers for the last time.
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