Mark Twain Dinette's physical appearance has evolved over the past 75 years, but everyone who celebrated the restaurant's 75th anniversary echoed a similar feeling spanning those years: family.
Enjoying a Maid-Rite with Mom.
Sipping root beer with Grandma.
Gathering with school friends for a sandwich before a Broadway cruise.
Mark Twain Dinette’s physical appearance has evolved over the past 75 years, but everyone who celebrated the restaurant’s 75th anniversary echoed a similar feeling spanning those years: family.
Freshly-decorated white interior walls highlighted black-framed old menus and photographs, and pages from the Courier-Post covered a corner facing the entrance, dating back to the 1942 opening of the original, 13-seat restaurant. From the first call for 30 Maid-Rites at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, the all-day celebration was going strong, with regular customers sharing memories of seeing familiar servers and bringing their children and grandchildren to share in their own family traditions. The owners plan to keep those memories coming for years to come.
The Hannibal landmark has been owned by four different owners since the original building opened its doors. The famous staples of Maid-Rites, onion rings and homemade root beer have remained a constant, just like the friendly service — for dine-in, curbside, carryout and delivery orders. M. Pennewell first owned the restaurant, selling it to LeRoy Witthaus, who retired in 1982. He sold the restaurant to John Bogue, and his son Jody purchased it in 2015. Manager Kenna Bogue grew up in the restaurant, as her grandfather and father did.
And Bogue is excited to keep the family tradition alive, planning to purchase the restaurant from her father in the future. She fondly remembers coming to the restaurant as a young girl, pointing to a booth where a lady always gave her a quarter for the gumball machine. Many of the employees with years of experience recalled those days, too.
“They say, ‘I remember you when you were a little girl,’” Bogue said.
She said her father worked there during her childhood. LeRoy Witthaus’ sister, Gen, babysat her as a young girl. And she fondly remembers Witthaus’ daughter, Vicky Anderson, who retired in 2015 after 49 years of sharing her smile with thousands of customers.
Bogue said Witthaus worked as a manager with Pennewell before he became owner, and Bogue’s grandfather and father worked with Witthaus. She said the close family connection helped keep traditions alive, since everyone had experience preparing food and serving all those regular customers and first-time visitors.
Bogue’s boyfriend, temporary employee Brady Bowen, is the late LeRoy Witthaus’ great-nephew. Bowen’s mother, two aunts and uncle all worked at the restaurant. In between serving customers during the celebration, he reminisced about sitting down for shakes and pancakes as a child.
“We’ve always kept it in the family and made it a tradition,” Bowen said.
Bowen enjoyed hearing stories from regular customers throughout the morning and afternoon, recalling how their traditions carried on with their children and grandchildren. Several visitors looked at the old photographs and expressed their astonishment of how much the building had changed. Some customers remember those days vividly.
Daryl Caswell said he and Jenny Caswell have been coming to Mark Twain Dinette since the 1950s, in the original steel building. Before the days of the curbside stalls, Caswell and friends from school would fill up all the stools, hanging out and enjoying their favorite treats. Jenny Caswell remembered gathering with her friends, each person chipping in a quarter for gas to pull into one of the stalls to get a sandwich “and of course cruise Broadway,” she said, smiling.
Otis Madden and Linda Narramore joined the celebration from nearby Louisiana, joining Glenn and Glenda Narramore for some of their favorites. They enjoyed the chance to celebrate the restaurant’s milestone together while partaking in some old favorites.
“We’ve always liked the root beer,” Madden said.
Fellow customer David Buckman signed a 75th Anniversary photograph on the register counter, noting he comes in for breakfast “all the time.”
“It’s a nice family atmosphere,” he said. First-time customers joined the regulars to kindle new memories during the anniversary celebration.
Tim and Cheryl Lorenz of St. Peters said “everything was wonderful,” noting they would definitely return. Cheryl Lorenz said celebrating the 75-year milestone was an interesting experience.
“It’s neat that they’ve been a part of Hannibal for so long,” she said.
Looking ahead, Bowen said raising money to get the iconic root beer mug spinning again is a high priority. He said the interior remodeling received consistent acclaim from customers, and the outdoor landmark would soon receive the specialized repairs it needed. Bogue said she looked forward to future opportunities to serve up memories in America’s Hometown.
“I am just really proud to have served all the families over the years,” she said. “I definitely want to bring my kids here someday.”
Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org