The nostalgia is alive and well at Lebanon’s Snow White Drive In restaurant with the recent passing of the manager’s baton from Patty Lehew to her 22-year-old granddaughter, Angel Lehew.
Angel brings some new energy, vibes and confidence to the 68-year-old restaurant that started when she pleaded with her grandmother to let her work there when she was 14. Angel grew up in the restaurant because both her great-grandmother and grandmother have been the manager.
Recently Patty decided after 24 years working at the restaurant — the last six as its manager — that it was time to retire.
“I started part-time in the dining room when I was in my late 30s and had children and worked part-time to help out,” Patty said.
Patty’s mom, Ann Birdwell, was the restaurant’s manager before her. Her sister Edie Oates worked there as well and made, from scratch, many of the “gotta get a second helping” dishes which kept the restaurant on the map for so many years.
“I decided to pass the baton to Angel,” said Patty. “Angel has been groomed for this for years and she’s ready. She’s got the heart for it. Angel cares about the people, the customers and she would go the extra mile for any one of our customers. She knows this place from front to back and in between.”
“Not everyone is made for the service industry,” the proud grandmother said.
Angel graduated from Lebanon High School in 2017.
“I’ve been working at Snow White since I was 14,” she said while taking a short break for an interview at the restaurant prior to opening at 11 a.m. recently. “I was here all the time and grew up here. I tried to help out since I was tall enough to see over the counter. I started asking grandma if I could do real work and one night, on a busy Friday, she called and asked me to come in.”
Angel put in some time as an assistant manager at Snow White.
“I’m now officially manager, a job I’ve wanted since I was 5 years old,” said Angel. “This is my world. I love to cook, clean, manage, host and everything.”
Planning to change anything?
“It’s not broke, is it?” she said. “I have the hopes of owning it one day.”
The only new rule Angel started was to have the employees wear matching Snow White shirts.
“This is an institution in Lebanon,” she said. “And I’m at the management helm. Been doing things here since I was a little girl. This is so neat.”
Equally, Angel said she knows she’s been given a great opportunity.
“I am a very hard worker,” she said. “I’ve worked very hard and have helped out a lot of people, I’m proud to be promoted.”
Her one-year stint at Cumberland University confirmed she really didn’t want to be an accountant.
Snow White owner Mark Moore said he’s glad Patty chose Angel to replace her as manager.
“I think we’ve all been grooming Angel as the next owner,” he said.
The restaurant’s Friday Night Cruise-Ins (mostly Jeeps these days) are still a draw and on Saturdays the muscle cars of another era show up on the three acres out back. Moore said they can have 25 to 200 cars these nights.
“We are so much a part of this community, regulars eat here every day and join new and old customers lining up at the door before we open,” he said.
Moore said Angel understands the community’s love for everything Snow White.
“She knows absolutely everything in the back, to working the register out front. If she doesn’t know, she will figure it out. I’m proud to be the owner and am so blessed God and Lebanon have been so good to me. Snow White is this community’s family.”
In a microwave society, Snow White’s charm is its nostalgia.
“Our menus never change,” said Moore. “We have a laid-back atmosphere, and we are a family-run restaurant. We cater to everyone. Toddlers come here for their first ice-cream cone.”
Longtime Snow White cook and owner Oats, who is Patty’s sister, revealed only one cooking secret, that she uses chicken broth to keep the dishes moist. She also showed some pride in Angel’s new role at the restaurant.
“Angel is our new manager,” she said. “She can do cooking to payroll to ordering. She was raised here. You either got it or you don’t, and she’s got it!”