By Emery Styron
If you travel U.S. 218 in Washington County, you’ll still find food and fuel at Exit 66, but you won’t be able to enjoy Diane Anding’s famous homemade pies. Aug. 31 is the last day for the Ainsworth Four Corners Restaurant, a southern Corridor rest stop, gathering spot and go-to place for country cooking the past 55 years.
The convenience store in the building will remain open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, though the Anding family is in discussions with a major convenience store chain to sell all its nine acres at the northwest corner of the intersection, including the original site on the west side of the property, where Diane’s parents, Buck and Hilda Edwards, cut the top off a farmhouse and started a restaurant in 1959.
When the state decided to improve old U.S. 218’s narrow lanes and treacherous curbs, the Edwards were forced to sell their farm on the west side of the road for right-of-way. They bought the acreage on the east side of the highway, opened the restaurant and leased a gas station north of the old “Y.” Ainsworth Four Corners Restaurant and Truck Stop was born, and along with it, a family and Southeast Iowa tradition.
Diane and then-husband, Terry Anding, took over the operation from her parents in 1984. Sons Mike and Tim grew up in the business and returned from other jobs to help run it in the late 1990s. Mike now serves as general manager and Tim manages the convenience store. Terry continued to maintain the property after he and Diane divorced in 1986.
Mr. Edwards lived to see the truck stop and restaurant housed in a new brick structure in 1999. The new building included the convenience store and a roomy restaurant with a home-style menu and atmosphere to match. It overlooks the folded-diamond interchange created after Highway 92 was realigned to the south and U.S. 218 was moved east and expanded to four lanes.
That’s a change from the old days when “we had a four-way stop at our front door” and a challenge, Ms. Anding said. It’s harder to get people to pull off a four-lane highway and the competition is fiercer, too. Four Corners was once one of four or five truck stops between St. Louis and St. Paul. Now there are many competitors, including Flying J, Pilot, Casey’s and more.
The Andings have met those challenges with hard work.
“My mom has outworked 99 percent of the population,” Tim said. “This is her passion.”
Ms. Anding does everything from managing the office to baking pies to waiting tables. Selling the business may be the only way to get her to retire, Tim said.
A crew that once numbered up to 70 staffs the store and restaurant, serving up bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy, burgers, Iowa pork chops and Ms. Anding’s pies to travelers who return trip-after-trip and locals who feel like they own the place. Few Anding youngsters or in-laws have missed working at Four Corners or being imprinted with the family’s work ethic.
The customers, meanwhile, have changed along with the highways.
“Everybody’s in a hurry now. They don’t stop and sit at the local café like the older folks did,” Mike reflected. Today’s customers tend to grab their food from the convenience store and go, talking on their phones or texting the whole time.
Nevertheless, the Andings will leave with memories of motorcyclists, bass fishermen, golfers, RAGBRAI riders, entertainers and presidential candidates –including Ronald Reagan, both Bushes and both Clintons – who have stopped to dine. They’ll remember the helicopter that landed in the parking lot, the snowed-in University of Iowa professor who spent the night at Diane’s home and the campaign manager who bought every pie in the house for his staff.
They’ll miss the local who drives a different vehicle from his classic car collection to coffee each day and the regulars at the “Extended Learning Table” who gather in shifts to discuss everything from the price of fuel and grain to the length of skirts.
Family members, including three older sisters, were on hand Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a “celebration of success” and thank you to employees and customers.
“I never imagined this would not be part of our family,” Tim said. His mother agreed.
“That is the hardest part,” she said.
There are consolations. For the first time in decades, the family will be able to gather without worrying about business. And after serving travelers since 1959, the Andings can finally travel themselves – together.