Carol West has worked at the Barnyard Restaurant every day it’s been open for 13 years. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

GRAY — Last year was going to be the final summer for the Barnyard Restaurant at the Cumberland Fair, but thanks to renewed dedication on the part of volunteers, it will be open again this summer.

The restaurant, run by Gray’s First Congregational Church as a fundraising mechanism, has been a staple at the fair for the past 13 years.

It is known for serving old-fashioned home cooking, such as pot roast, turkey dinners and homemade pies.

Carol West has worked every single day that the restaurant has been open for the past 13 years.

The reason I’ve done it so long is because I love to cook and I love to bake and I love the fact that I don’t have to wash my own dishes,” West said. 

The restaurant was previously run by a different organization, but the Cumberland Farmers Club began looking for a new tenant in 2006.

“Our church, like many other mainstream churches, we were dwindling, and funds were dwindling. I had been doing a lot of praying about finding a solution to the financial situation with the church,” West said. “When (the restaurant) was brought to me, I didn’t feel like I could say ‘God, I was really hoping for an endowment. Something I wouldn’t have to work so hard at.’ Since this has been dropped in my lap, I think I’m supposed to do it.”

Some years, she would bake over 50 pies in a week, arriving at the restaurant at 4:30 a.m. to begin cooking. The hours are long, and temperatures can reach 115 degrees back in the kitchen.

Now, 14 years later, at almost 70 years old, she said she’s getting tired: “I just can’t do all of this again.”

Volunteers Sue Pollard and Laurie Keller work at Barnyard Restaurant in 2018. Photo courtesy of Nancy McMinn

But when she informed the church last year of her decision to close down the restaurant, a group of volunteers stepped forward to take over the work.

“Much of the burden fell on Carol’s shoulders,” said Pam Foshay, the restaurant’s new coordinator. “Now there’s been about a dozen of us that have been meeting all winter and into the spring to take on the planning and how do we spread the work out a little bit and keep this going.”

It is Foshay’s third year working at the restaurant, and she said, “It’s a question of the torch being passed a little bit. Some of the younger members have stepped up and taken over to let some of our older more experienced folks that are tired take a step back.”

Part of why the restaurant is so popular, Foshay said, is the “good, old-fashioned home cooking. That’s something that’s hard to find on a fairground.” It’s also one of only two locations in the fairground where patrons can sit down to eat, West said.

Over the past 13 years, the restaurant has raised over $92,000 for the church, much of which went towards repairs for the building.

“It’s been a fantastic journey,” said longtime volunteer Sally Johnston. “It’s been hard work, but it’s been rewarding.”

It takes dozens of volunteers to keep the restaurant running, West said; one year, she counted 66. Before she retired in 2012, she would take a week’s vacation from her job to work at the restaurant, and she knew of at least six other volunteers who did the same thing.

Johnston said her favorite part of volunteering at the restaurant is “the rapport you feel and the sense that it’s building friendships and deeper relationships. There’s a little dead time so you can really talk about important things to the other people working there and just laugh a lot.”

“You get to know people in a different way than just seeing them on Sunday morning,” West said. “It’s been a labor of love.”

The Cumberland Fair will take place Sept. 22 through 28.

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