“My favorite thing about Skillet is you don’t have to be a hungry man to order the ‘Hungry Man Combo’” (Madeline Young, Wofford class of 2018 and avid frequenter of The Skillet).
“I remember going to Skillet one morning… I needed food so bad. The hunger was written all over my face. The guy next to me must have noticed. He gave me his toast. Best damn toast I ever had. If he would’ve stuck around, he could’ve scored my digits. He wasn’t cute, though. He just, ya know… Gave me his toast” (Olivia Vasquez, Wofford class of 2018 and avid frequenter of The Skillet).
“Yea, me and Skillet’ve been together for two years now. Back in my ramblin’ days, I messed around with Waffle House. I realized it just wasn’t as good as it was with Skillet” (Me, Wofford class of 2018 and girlfriend of The Skillet).
The Skillet Restaurant of Spartanburg, or, “Skillet” (as it is typically dubbed), is no amateur when it comes to the art of breakfast. However, I do not wish to build this article atop a food-based critique. Rather, I want to focus on what really makes Skillet special: The community it attracts and the individuals who embody it.
Walking into Skillet feels like walking into Grandma’s kitchen in the morning. Eggs and bacon on the burner, pancakes fresh off the pan, orange juice set and ready by your plate. The only difference is, none of the waitresses at Skillet are leaving lipstick on your cheek and cawing at you to take smaller bites. Skillet draws in everyone and welcomes anyone. If you survey the counter as you walk in, you will notice a melting pot of people, talking and shaking hands over full cups of fresh coffee. That guy may not know the guy sitting next to him, but they sure as hell ain’t strangers. Tables are occupied by businessmen, families, cops. Every type of person goes to Skillet. Grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, kids, the mailman, the preacher, your ex-boyfriend, the girl next door, Jake from State Farm. Skillet’s like speed dating but without the disappointment. If you go to Skillet and you don’t make a new friend, you’re doing something wrong. Someone I love very much once told me to set aside a morning and go to Skillet by myself. I had never thought of doing that before — going to a restaurant alone and eating alone and having to actually leave the tip for once. I thought, Why would I do that? Why would I choose to go somewhere and eat alone? My friend explained that going to Skillet alone would undoubtedly be a good experience for me and for anyone. For a long time, I didn’t think about that again. But, one day I woke up early to prepare for an exam I was due to fail that very same day, and I deemed myself worthy of a good breakfast on account of being such a studious pupil. It took me all of .0001 seconds to decide on Skillet (duh). None of my friends were up, but I was unbearably hungry. I suddenly remembered that little piece of advice and I was feeling extra big in my britches, so I courageously hopped in my little Ford Escape and drove on into town to get my Skillet fix. I remember the ride so well. “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman was playing on the radio and my solo concert earned me some fans at a couple of stoplights. I pulled up and saw that the parking lot was pretty empty. I really needed to get some reading done while I ate, so I grabbed my book bag and moved it to the side so I could reach my “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine (intended knee slapper). I walked into the diner and made sure to sit in a corner somewhere away from the other three or so customers. I settled in, ordered some coffee and suddenly, my peripheral view caught sight of a blur sliding into the seat next to mine. I looked at the little old lady… And then I looked at the 25+ empty seats around her. Seriously, lady? You could have sat anywhere and you sit here. She smiled at me and I did the same. She ordered some coffee and looked at the menu for a little while. Once her coffee was brought out, she lifted the cup to her mouth. Her wrinkled hands were so shaky, I was sure she was going to drop it and burn us both. The old woman took a sip, smiled, and said, “I took my Ellen here once. You look a little bit like she did when she was younger.” I probably said something awkward and stupid like, “I love Skillet,” or, “Nice loafers.” No, I’m just joking. Of course, I got all mushy inside and asked her who Ellen was. Before she answered, she introduced herself. Her name was Margaret and she was passing through Spartanburg, on her way home to Charlotte. I was sure she was going to say Ellen was her daughter or her granddaughter, but she told me something different…
Ellen was not her daughter or her granddaughter, nor was she a sister or even a friend. Ellen was someone Margaret loved intimately. She explained how, a long while back, she and Ellen had taken a memorable trip to Skillet. So, she just had to stop by and reminisce. She told me that Ellen had passed away five years ago. I offered my condolences and assumed that was going to be the end of it, but she began to trail off into a wonderful story. “I loved her.” She said. I remember that part well, because as she spoke those words, her voice carried immeasurable meaning and truth. I just listened as she talked about Ellen as if she was there, able to hear every word. She told me how she knew that they were meant for one another. She told me how Ellen made her laugh like no one else ever could. She told me that Ellen’s flaws were the things she loved most about her. She told me Ellen loved to sing and her feet always smelled bad. She told me Ellen never wore makeup and her hair was always wild and beautiful. She told me that Ellen was always so much smarter than she was, but Ellen never minded and neither did she. I learned all these little things about this woman named Ellen. I began to wish I had known her myself. Towards the end of the conversation, I noticed that the people around us were listening, and while Margaret was looking at me, she was speaking to all of us. As she laid down the tip and began to stand up, she said something and I will summarize it to the best of my memory, though her words deserved much more… “Ellen and I never married or publicized what we really felt. We became excellent liars and hid every day. We called each other friends around our friends and our families out of fear that the truth would chase them all away.” The last thing she said before she walked away was, “I hope you can be brave for those of us who missed our chance to be.” Everyone nodded and said, “We will.”
I am grateful for my detailed record of this event, and it is all thanks to my journal. I gladly sacrificed studying for that test in order to fill the pages of my notebook with every memory and feeling I could recover from that interaction. I am so lucky to have looked like Ellen. I am so thankful to have met the people I did, especially Margaret. I am so happy that I was brave enough that day to go it alone. After Margaret left, I looked around at all of the people who had been listening to her. There were six of us. A middle-aged couple, an old man, and two girls who seemed to be around my age. We talked for a while, reflecting on the old woman’s story. We began to break off into other conversations about our own lives. Numbers and emails were exchanged. All over breakfast, connections were made, lives were touched, and love was felt… And it all happened at Skillet.