Sad day for Darlington County: Ruth’s Drive-In closing!

The iconic and well-loved Ruth’s Drive In, located at 659 West Carolina Avenue in Hartsville. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By Stephan Drew, Editor

In the heart of Hartsville, South Carolina, a local icon is bidding farewell after 79 years of service. Ruth’s Drive-In, located at 659 West Carolina Avenue, has been a cherished tradition since its humble beginnings in 1945. Founded by Ruth Gilbert Grantham Lockett and her husband, the late Jay Z. Grantham, the restaurant has always been a family affair, managed by four generations over the years, including Marvin “Doc” Hooker Sr. and his children, “Doc” Jr., Angela Stokes, and Marvene Rowland.

Originally a white wooden gas station with a kitchen in the rear, a fire in the early 1950s, the structure was replaced by the stone block building which stands today, a testament to its enduring presence in the community. For decades, Ruth’s Drive-In has been a place where families gather, friends reunite, and memories are made over plates of delicious, homecooked meals. Several class reunions have also been held there because of all the happy memories made over the decades.

When asked about her experience growing up with this cherished tradition, Angela Stokes reflected, “I remember crawling around on this floor as a child. We all did,” she said. Commenting on the skill and mindset needed to manage and enjoy such an establishment, Stokes said, “It takes help from the Lord, the community, and family.” Her sentiment echoes the sentiment shared by many who have been touched by the warmth and hospitality of Ruth’s Drive-In.

Generations of locals and visitors have enjoyed the restaurant’s signature dishes, including fried chicken, butter beans, rice & gravy, collards, macaroni & cheese, meatloaf, and tomatoes & okra. Specialties like Doc’s “Hot” specials, the RDI Famous Hot Dog, and the Big Doc Burger have become beloved favorites over the years. Ruth’s also has the reputation of serving the best chili in North and South Carolina. 

As the doors of Ruth’s Drive-In prepare to close in approximately a week, the community is saying goodbye to more than just a restaurant; they are bidding farewell to a piece of their history and a gathering place that has been woven into the fabric of their lives. Angela and Marvene, though saddened by the closure, understand that “everything has to come to an end sometime.” Angela expressed a wish to be “30 years younger,” a sentiment that speaks to the deep-rooted connection and nostalgia associated with this local landmark.

Numerous locals have called The News & Press office, stating, “It’s like a death in the family.” And, so it is. But, the legacy of Ruth’s Drive-In will live on in the memories of all of us who have walked through its doors, sharing meals, stories, and laughter. As the community prepares to say goodbye, they hold onto the hope that the spirit of Ruth’s Drive-In will endure, reminding them of the importance of family, community, and cherished traditions.

Author: Stephan Drew

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