For more than five decades, an iconic eatery in Maggie Valley served up healing helpings of homey charm and a hash brown casserole that can’t be beat. That all changed last summer, when owner Brenda O’Keefe closed the restaurant, citing health concerns. Residents worried that it would be the end of an era, but a year later, under new ownership, Joey’s Pancake House is set to reopen.
As Brenda O’Keefe tells it, the year was 1966, when a fateful trip through a bustling little tourist town in Western North Carolina led to the establishment of a half-century legacy. “My husband Joey and I were coming through Maggie Valley on our way to Virginia to look at a small business and we had friends that live here and we stopped,” O’Keefe said. “We thought it was a charming town. And the rest is history. “
Joey’s Pancake House quickly became a regular stop not only for locals but also for the thousands of tourists who visited each year. Its success and its survival, O’Keefe said, wasn’t built on the cuisine, but rather on the sense of community they created. Joey passed away in 2001, and in 2016, Brenda made the difficult decision to close the restaurant and move on. “I really didn’t want to sell it,” she said. “People said, ‘Is it going to be Joeys?’ And I said no, Joey’s goes with me. I was afraid they wouldn’t maintain the same standards that we had.”
While entertaining offers, O’Keefe remembered a couple she’d encountered over the years, also in the restaurant business. “I asked them over the years how they operated the restaurant, and the most important thing to them was what they did for their employees.”
Enter Roy Milling and his wife Sandra, new owners of Joey’s. “Brenda and Joey have done such a wonderful thing to get this up and going that it just needs to be carried on,” Sandra Milling said.
Even amid the backdrop of hammers and cordless drills, Sandra Milling understands the role Joey’s plays in Maggie Valley, and what customers expect. “There’s no reason to change anything,” said Milling. “There’s no need to change anything. Everything is as it should be.”
In an age of fast food and fine dining, Joey’s is the kind of community institution that’s becoming harder and harder to find. “When you find it,” she said, “you don’t want it let go.”
Joey’s Pancake house will hold a grand re-opening Friday, May 25.