What happened to Rita’s Dinner?
MORGANTOWN, WV, June 15, 2012—Rita’s Diner was a popular local
diner situated between Pigeon Creek and US Route 52 in Varney, Mingo County, WV.
Rita and Robert Justice opened for business on September 6, 1975; serving
breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. The restaurant was an iconic
fixture in this rural area—locals and out-of-towners stopped for good food and
pleasant service. The largest crowd ever served at Rita’s Diner was after a
local football game when they fed over 100 football players, cheerleaders, and
parents from Matewan High School. Rita said she had six girls working that night
with one making only milkshakes. On May 13, 2009, all that changed when flooding
from Pigeon Creek tore through the back of the building and ravaged Rita’s
On Mother’s Day weekend, there was widespread flooding in Mingo, Boone, Logan,
Raleigh, and Wyoming Counties. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
responded with assistance through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP)
Program. The Disaster Response Team found it was not feasible to repair the
streambank at Rita’s and save the building, so removing the structure was the
safest and most cost-effective solution. The West Virginia State Conservation
Committee, the West Virginia Conservation Agency, and the Mingo County
Commission partnered on the project.
Rita’s Diner was a unique situation since it involved a business and a
structure. There was a delay while the NRCS grappled with the programmatic
process. NRCS received authorization to purchase a floodplain easement at the
location and pay the Justice’s for the value of their structure and for
restoring the site to a natural condition.
In June 2011, NRCS and the Mingo County Commission purchased Rita’s Diner.
Demolition of the building and streambank work was quickly completed. Rita and
Robert no longer need to worry about the risks to life and property associated
with the flood.
Rita and Robert’s home sits on a hillside above the old restaurant location–they
can see Pigeon Creek and the wide spot in the road where the diner used to be.
Now, instead of diners, a heron visits—the site is just another part of the
streambank between Pigeon Creek and a winding, two lane road through Mingo
County. Erosion is reduced as the banks convert to natural vegetation.
Streambank stability will improve.
On May 13, 2009, flooding from Pigeon Creek tore
through the back of the building and ravaged Rita’s Diner.
Completed streambank work at the former Rita’s Diner
USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To
file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil
Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call
800-795-3272 (voice) or 202-720-6382 (TDD).
||Public Affairs Specialist
1550 Earl Core Road, Suite 200,
Morgantown, WV 26505
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