The restaurant, originally known as Lynn Garden Grill, is owned and operated by Mike Kerney with help from his daughter Suzanne. While they haven’t owned the restaurant the whole time it has been in operation, their family has been in the restaurant business for generations.
The family’s restaurant history goes back to Mike’s Cafe in Norton. The eatery was owned by Mike’s grandparents, Mike and Anna Fekete. They were Hungarian immigrants, and Mike credits them for bringing the first hot dog to Norton.
“Dad’s great-grandmother, grandmother and mother worked in that restaurant,” said Suzanne.
Their family business then moved to Gate City, where they owned the Gateway Restaurant, Campus Drive-In and a convenience store, which is now a Pal’s. Gateway closed in 1989, and they bought Lynn Garden that same year.
“The family, that’s what I want to stress. It’s where I came from,” said Mike. “It’s nothing fancy, just good home cooking like you would have at home.”
“It literally is the way Grandma would do it,” said Suzanne.
Now that family history, and the history of the area, lives on in Lynn Garden Restaurant. The walls are adorned with old pictures of Kingsport and Scott County dating back to the 1940s, old Lynn View High School photos and antique items, such as sleds. The old pictures of the area were chosen and hung by local historian Kenny Stallard. Many of the chairs and tables, as well as the lunch counter and stools, are original to the restaurant.
“As you can see, the decor is nothing fancy, but we try to keep it maintained for how old the building is. We are one of the oldest, if not the oldest restaurant in Kingsport,” said Mike. “We pride ourselves as being a part of Kingsport and the heart of Lynn Garden. I still like to keep the reputation of Jack Mayes’ Center Street Restaurant. He was the best there ever was. He’s who I’ve always looked up to.”
Most recipes are family recipes, including their award-winning chicken. The restaurant has won many honors over the years, including Times News Readers Choice awards for best chicken, best breakfast and more.
“Chicken’s my main thing. We have a saying, ‘Seven days without our chicken makes one weak.’ We sell about a ton of chicken a month.” said Mike. “I’ve always been honored every year when I get awards. It’s a testament of pride in the quality of the food. People know what I got. I don’t have to flaunt the awards, but I’m appreciative of the awards.”
Mike credits his employees and the community for the restaurant’s continued success. Some employees have worked there more than 30 years, and others have worked there at least a decade.
“I definitely couldn’t do it without the support of the community and my employees,” said Mike. “My employees are No. 1 in my success.”
The restaurant is steeped in the community, as Kerney caters many events, banquets and meetings, including breakfast for the Gate City High School football team. The restaurant also hosts class reunions, prayer breakfasts, Sunday school classes and more.
“The restaurant was really the heart of Lynn Garden. When Lynn View High School closed, it was adopted as their meeting place,” said Suzanne.
“I did a lot of food for them — banquets and dinners — for the high school,” said Mike. “We host a number of prayer breakfasts. Higher Ground Baptist Church had their Sunday school classes here before their building was built.”
“There’s even a couple of motorcycle clubs that meet here. Dad knows all these people, what church they go to or what club they belong to, and what they like to eat. The people and connections to people mean a lot to Dad,” said Suzanne.
Mike said there have also been some famous guests at the restaurant over the years, including country music legend Johnny Cash.
“He sat right over there,” Mike said, gesturing to a table by the window. “He always had chicken livers, greens and always wanted chow-chow.”
“I hope the people appreciate me as much as I appreciate them,” said Mike. “I’m 68, and it’s been a long ride. You have to put your heart in it and be dedicated to what you’re doing. I’ve had the support of my family: my wife, children and grandchildren. I call the community my family. Some people eat here every day, sometimes two or three times.”