Sunday, my wife Sharon and I said good-bye to an old friend. No, no one died. It was a restaurant we’ve enjoyed from time to time through the years. I don’t suppose you could call us regulars, because it’s so far across town from us that we don’t go there often.
Vance Godbey opened his doors in 1955, when I was only twelve years old. His family lived in quarters adjacent to the restaurant, which occupies a number of acres near Lake Worth, northwest of Fort Worth. If we ever ate there back in those days, I don’t remember it, but I’ve been aware of its existence all along.
In addition to the restaurant, they always did a large catering business. My high school class held its ten-year reunion on the grounds of the restaurant and catered by it in 1971. That’s the first time I definitely recall eating there.
My first memory of eating in the restaurant dining room was in the late 1980’s. My partner and I had a client in the town of Lake Worth, and anytime we called on that client anywhere near mealtime, we would stop at Vance Godbey’s for their wonderful buffet. There was no other place quite like it.
I took Sharon to Vance Godbey’s on our first date in 1990. That was the first of many meals we enjoyed there.
The long buffet table had a large variety of salads first, followed by succulent vegetables. I don’t usually have a great appreciation for veggies, but theirs were always wonderful—especially their green beans. Green beans can be anywhere from barely edible to great, and theirs were always on the great side.
At the end of the long table was another one turned sideways to form a “T” with the main table. This one contained eight or ten different meats, which they put on a separate plate since most of us had our main plates full by the time we got there.
The huge dining room had floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows at one end with a view of their patio and the beautiful trees in the yard. If the trees hadn’t been there, I’m sure Lake Worth could have been seen. In fact, I have a vague memory that it used to be visible before the trees got so big, but I’m not certain about that. I also think I remember there used to be a swimming pool there somewhere.
Through the years, Sharon and I have shared several special occasions there. In addition to joining other couples or families, we got our Sunday School class to meet there at least once for a social gathering. Sharon’s sister and brother-in-law held their oldest son’s rehearsal dinner there before his wedding, and I hosted my mother’s 80th birthday party there. Lots of memories.
Vance Godbey’s first wife died back in the 1970’s, and when he remarried, his wife Arvella became an integral part of the operation. His four kids all grew up in and around the restaurant, and his daughter Carol took over running it after he died in the late 1990’s. I managed to get this photo of Carol and Arvella together Sunday.
Carol has had health problems to deal with in recent years, and I’m guessing that may be part of why she decided to close the operation—although she told me Sunday that those problems are all behind her and that she’s fine now. Regardless of health, I’m sure she and Arvella both could use a rest on Sundays.
Arvella assured Sharon and me that the catering business will continue operating as always and that the restaurant will be available to private parties if they’re large enough. And they invited us to a Customer Appreciation Day celebration lunch in a couple of weeks.
I have no idea how many people ate there Sunday, although the line snaked out the front door and the parking lot was packed when we arrived at 11 a.m. People for miles around came to enjoy their last experience at Vance Godbey’s.
I told Carol I’d only seen one larger crowd there. In 1999 five firefighters from area towns were killed fighting a fire in a church in the town of Lake Worth, and Carol decided to raise money for their surviving families. She donated 100% of the proceeds from one Sunday’s crowd to the firefighters’ fund. My memory may be a bit hazy, but as I recall, firefighters from all around served as wait staff that day. At any rate, the crowd was amazing. I hate standing in lines for anything anytime, but that day I was glad I had to.
That day has always stood out in my mind as an example of the type of people Carol and Arvella and the rest of the Godbey family are. I’ll miss the restaurant, and I’ll miss these two wonderful ladies.
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A wonderful tribute to friends, families and an establishment that brought together so many over the years, in good times and tragedy. We mourn their loss as those special places take on a human like place in our heart. They were once there and then oops – they are gone. As you know, David, my career moved me many times but I still developed so many close ties with owners of business and whenever I would return to an area I always felt I was coming home. I honestly believe that’s what made all the moving about of my career tolerable. On the other hand, when I learn a favorite place is no longer there, I feel profound grief. It’s not only a loss to me but to the community where it was located and all that gathered there. I always wonder what were the circumstances of the closing and pray the owners were able to set aside enough to live comfortably because we all know there’s not a lot of richness to be gained in honestly serving our fellow man. The richness comes from God’s love and the coins from other sources.
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So enjoyed this David. This restaurant holds a lot
of great memories for me…the last 2 included you and your lovely wife, my wonderful friend, your sister Barbara and my beloved husband, Everett, who passed away in 2012; the very last visit was in 2014, when 2 new friends, widows from a Griefshare group treated ourselves for our June birthdays!! One had a great grandson with her who was around 7 and declared the mashed pots. Better than dessert!!
We’ll all miss it! Thanks, Fieldan.
Obviously, I’ve never eaten there, but I know what it’s like to have a favorite restaurant close. Two that I absolutely adored have closed in the past ten years, and then a third about fifteen years ago. I still miss them to this day (and try to figure out recipes for my favorite meals).
Always a sad occasion when a place like this closes, Kristy.
Thank you David for this tribute to Vance Godbey’s. My first memories of Vance Godbey’s goes goes back to the mid-1960s having enjoyed their catering services at church and college functions.
My first on site visit to the restaurant was in November 1983 on a warm Sunday afternoon. I caught a flight that evening, had clear skies all the way to Denver only to be greeted by a blizzard that delayed our arrival.
My brother and his wife have been frequent customers of the restaurant for years. We will always share fond memories of the place.
Thanks for sharing the story about a fundraiser for fallen firefighters!
Glad it brought back memories for you, too, Rich.
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Thanks for writing this fine tribute to Vance Godbey’s, David. Though my experience there has been much less than yours, I also relished the opportunity to go there. Mom’s birthday party was a wonderful success, partly due to the great food and service at Vance Godbey’s. I enjoyed our lunch there with Fieldan and her husband Everett a few years ago. I am glad that you have the customer appreciation lunch to look forward to. Enjoy it for me also.
Thanks, Sis. I will.
Vance Godbey was a very fine man, and his restaurant was first class. I’m glad his catering business will continue. I’ll surely treasure happy memories of events held there.
Me, too, sweetie. Especially that first date with you.