Along a country road northwest of Kennett Square sits a small roadside gas station and eatery that is a throwback to the fifties.
Two aging gas pumps are perched out front, and etched into the simple black and white awning on the building is the name Archie’s. After being tipped off by a friend about their excellent food, I took a country drive and stopped in for lunch. What I found was summed up on the menu, “A Harris Family Tradition since 1948.”
Originally opened by Raymond “Archie” Harris, he and his wife ran the operation for over fifty years. Four years ago, Archie’s son Ron took over the business, renovated the interior and updated the simple sandwich menu. Ron’s partners in running the business include Ron’s sister Patricia, who recently retired from Unionville School District. Ron’s wife Valerie, who still works at the school, works behind the counter during the summer. It truly continues as a family business.
When I first stepped inside the shop, two locals sat at nearby tables casually conversing with the women behind the counter. It’s a small and inviting place where you can’t go for long without introducing yourself and engaging in conversation.
All the panini choices on the menu looked good, so I asked which is the most popular, expecting the answer to be the “Archie.” The women debated for a few moments before agreeing the Cajun Turkey panini was probably their best seller.
“Do you like spicy?” Pat asked. “It’s good if you like spicy.”
According to the menu, the Cajun Turkey Panini (pictured below) features turkey, provolone, roasted red pepper, ranch dressing, spinach and a dusting of cajun spice. Pat told me they just started using Boar’s Head turkey which is already Cajun seasoned, so they wouldn’t add in the extra spice. “It’s spicy enough,” she warned me.
As they disappeared in the back, I pulled out an iced tea and bag of chips before taking a corner table to check out the ambience. The shop is simple and clean, with walls decorated in orange and brown, tile floor and dark brown high top tables and chairs.
Just as my panini was delivered, Ron Harris came in the front door and Valerie introduced us. Ron told me about the history of the place, how his father started the shop in 1948. “There used to be more men working in the fields,” he said of the locale. “The streets, the fields and the trees haven’t changed. There’s a lot more traffic but it takes more traffic, because people on the road have so many places they can stop.”
Ron recalled what life was like growing in the fifties along Newark Road, where their house was located adjacent to the shop. “When I was a kid, my brother and I used to stand right here,” he points to the window. “The chewing tobacco used to come with playing cards. This mushroom plant was gangbusters when we were kids, and the old southern guys that worked there all chewed tobacco. So at lunch time, here they come. We’d see the tobacco chewers and we’d run down here and sit on the step. We’d ask them if we could have their baseball cards. They didn’t want them, they just wanted the chewing tobacco, so my brother and I had a collection of baseball cards.”
Ron explained how times have changed. “Every field had a worker in it. There were greenhouses in the village and little mom and pop shops all over where they sold flowers or mushrooms. You won’t see any of that north because it’s the big estates. During the daytime now there’s no-one around” on the farms. While Archie’s still has their regular customers, they are also a pit stop for many travelers along the country road. Golfers heading out to Loch Nairn Golf Course, salesmen taking a shortcut to West Chester, and travelers heading to Wilmington, stop in for a meal or a snack.
In the mornings, the Harris family offers coffee and pre-made breakfast sandwiches. For lunch, they offer hoagies and sandwiches, even liverwurst and onions. They also sell sliced Boars Head deli meats, chips, soft drinks, fresh fruit, homemade desserts, and Pat’s own homemade relish and sauces. In addition, they recently started delivering lunches for the Upland Country Day School on a trial basis.
My turkey panini was indeed spicy, it was also exceptionally excellent. The provolone had melted into the red peppers, the cajun turkey was offset by the ranch dressing and the toasted oversized bread was crunchy. Combined with a bag of chips, an iced tea, and the interesting conversation, Archie’s proved itself a worthwhile lunch stop on the back country road.
Archie’s is located at 1670 Newark Road, 1/4 mile south of Route 926. They open Monday – Friday at 6 a.m., and on Saturdays, they open at 7 a.m.