L.E. Clark’s Grocery & Deli, a landmark in the Sullivan Gardens community for decades, is closing its doors. We’ve only got about 10 days — make that eight when you remove next Saturday and Sunday (they’re closed on weekends) — to enjoy the restaurant’s eclectic menu. And some items already are going out of stock.
Owners Scott and Tracey Cleek announced just this past Wednesday that Scott is retiring and closing the business. He’s the third generation to operate the business, which began as a corner grocery in the Long Island community nearly 90 years ago, at least. The oldest document the family has from the business is an invoice from Kingsport Grocery Company to L.E. Clark dated July 20, 1931. It is framed and hanging on a wall inside the current Clark’s, at 2645 Sullivan Gardens Parkway.
Clark’s doesn’t lack for customers and many are regulars. But as news spread of Scott’s retirement and the restaurant’s pending end, the crowd picked up Thursday and Friday. So you better hurry if you want one last “fried thick bologna” sandwich, or B.L.T., or Reuben, or soup bean dinner. And don’t forget the “Big Hack Burger” (1/4 pound) — or why not go out b-i-g with a “Double Hack Bacon Cheeseburger.”
The business originated with Scott’s maternal grandparents, O.G. and Lessie Clark, and was named for the latter: full name Lessie Estell.
“He had several,” Scott said Friday. “We built this one (pointing to framed photo) in 1959.”
Not long after that, his grandfather got sick and his mother and his sisters began running the store. Soon they were joined by his father. In 1983, when his father reached retirement, Scott took the helm. Over the years, Tracey has helped Scott with various parts of running the business. She still does, but also works full time elsewhere.
So, how did Scott decide to retire now? It’s just time, he said.
“I’m ready,” Scott said, noting he’ll be 67 in September.
The family had looked around initially for someone to buy the business and keep it going. That hasn’t worked out. Then along came an out-of-town realtor who made an offer to buy the building and property. The family accepted. It’s slated to become a dentist’s office.
Clark’s advertises as “the best place off the beaten path for affordable, family inspired, comfort foods. Home of the regional favorite, the ‘Big Hack’ burger, we offer something for everyone.”
Scott has grown up with most of the community and considers them all extended family, according to Clark’s website, where the family has posted the following:
“After careful, dutiful, heartfelt and prayerful consideration, we are announcing the retirement of Scott Cleek and the closure of L.E. Clark’s Grocery & Deli. Scott, being the 3rd generation in this family business, has faithfully continued his family’s legacy and has now elected to begin retirement and the next phase of his life.
“We will remain open for regular hours through Wednesday, May 8. From now until then, we will continue to offer our regular menu until stock dwindles. However, we will not be offering a daily special after May 3. Please continue to ask for your favorite items and while they are still available we will gladly make them for you. When stock is depleted rest assured we will continue to offer our hamburgers, hotdogs and fries until our doors close permanently. This will pay homage to the items we offered when we began our kitchen years ago.
“We are planning a Retirement / Customer Appreciation event with free hot dogs and drinks on Thursday, May 9, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. for anyone who wishes to spend a bit of time with us as we begin this next chapter of our lives.
“Thank you for over 8 decades of friendship and loyalty!
“Scott, Tracey and Lucy. And the entire Cleek / Clark families.”
Clark’s is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.