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Loretta Thayer at her hamburger place, the Silver Leaf. Photo: Julie Grant
Loretta Thayer at her hamburger place, the Silver Leaf. Photo: Julie Grant

A safe haven, and homemade pie, at the Silver Leaf

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North Country highways are full of diners, cafes, and coffee shops. The sign on the Silver Leaf in DeKalb Junction calls it a diner. But owner Loretta Thayer says it's really a hamburger joint.

She decided to open the place after the September 11th attacks. Thayer is 80 now, and the place is still running.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

All seats at the counter are full. Men are talking, eating, chatting up the waitresses.

It's lunchtime. We choose a booth in the back corner, and Loretta Thayer comes over and introduces the waitress. It's her daughter-in-law, who she says has been with her "from day one."

Thayer is a slim blond, and these days she's usually in the kitchen mixing up a huge pot of chili or baking homemade pies. Today, the options are "coconut, banana, raspberry, blackberry, apple, pumpkin, chocolate."

The Silver Leaf is on Route 11 in DeKalb Junction. Photo: Julie Grant
The Silver Leaf is on Route 11 in DeKalb Junction. Photo: Julie Grant
Thayer spent most of her life living right across Route 11. She and her husband raised five children and ran a dairy farm. He died in 1999. A couple of years later she watched with the rest of the world as the twin towers fell in New York.

"And I thought, Oh God, I wish I could do something. It was such a devastating thing. I thought, 'I can't go down there. I can't hunt down Bin Laden.' But it was like God said to me you can buy that place across the road and make it a safe place for the community. I thought, 'it sounds like a good idea. I don't know.'"

The building was sitting vacant. Her family and neighbors started encouraging her to buy it. She was reluctant. The place was $20,000 more than she could afford. Thayer had known the owner from childhood. She saw him at a restaurant, and wanted to check in. His family had been sick.

"And I walked over to the table to see how they were feeling. And he said to me, 'You want that place for what you offered me, you can have it.' Well, I wasn't sure I wanted it. But that's how it all came about."

Eleven years later, and the Silver Leaf is full of character, with tchotchkes lining the walls and window sills. The menu hangs from a board in hard plastic letters. Guests can sit at the classic lunch counter and watch burgers on the grill, or in red Formica booths.

The same customers come in to the Silver Leaf every week. Photo: Julie Grant.
The same customers come in to the Silver Leaf every week. Photo: Julie Grant.
Thayer says the building is paid for, and business is just fine.

"I'm not making a lot of money. The bills are paid. I've got seven employees. It's doing okay, as far as getting rich. But that's not my goal. What am I going to do with a million dollars?"

Thayer's son and his wife both work at the Silver Leaf. And Thayer, herself, does most of the cooking.

She's gotten to know all the regulars. Men discuss the day's news over morning coffee. She knows which families to expect for spaghetti night.

It can be a long work day, starting at 6 am.

"And I don't know enough to slow down. Sometimes I go home and say 'I've got to stop this. But I love what I'm doing, which makes it much, much easier. I'll probably do it until I keel over in the flour bin out there."

One of her friends tells her it's time to retire.

"She comes in every once in a while and says 'Loretta, you got to stop this, and enjoy life.' They don't understand, I am enjoying life. I am enjoying life."

And it's time for us to enjoy a large slice of delicious, creamy chocolate pie.

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