Lessons from North Star Restaurant: the Strongest Relationships are Built in Person, Not Over the Internet

There’s a modest restaurant off scenic Route 11 in the Blue Ridge Mountains that feeds a regular group of natives and out-of-towners. Located just outside the town of Buchanan, Va., North Star Restaurant delivers good home cooking and prompt, friendly service in unpretentious surroundings. Owner Debbie Painter also charges incredibly low prices—a bonus to the affable atmosphere that nets generous tips for the restaurant’s hard working staff.

The food is wonderful. But what I enjoyed most about my recent pancake breakfast there was watching the North Star regulars pitch in and help out. One older gentleman came around with the coffee pot and filled up everyone’s cup. Another customer bused a table, then wiped it clean! The small dining room held happy faces, full bellies and plenty of “See ya tomorrow!” departures.

As a member of the local high school’s class of 1991, I can vouch that North Star Restaurant is where we James River “Knights” enjoyed the best cheeseburgers in town. From first dates to family dinners, it was—and is—the place to get a delicious, down home meal. It’s also one of the few restaurants in town that continues to thrive year after year.

North Star’s success comes not from a food critic’s praise, a Facebooker’s post, or a social networkers’ “tweet” as she passes through town. Rather, it comes from a community of neighbors who enjoy each other’s company and, in many cases, have known each other all their lives. It comes from out-of-towners who regularly stop by for a bite to eat on their way down Interstate 81 to a Virginia Tech football game, and from a restaurant owner who worries more about how fresh Mr. Neely’s coffee is than how much she charges for it. It also comes from kind-hearted, small-town customers who spend their hard-earned dollars in a place that feels like home.

You just can’t build relationships like that on Facebook or Twitter with people you just met—or worse, never met.

My point(s):

– Some of us aren’t buying the “you can build genuine, trusting relationships via social networking” argument. Most of us who have Facebook accounts use them to connect with family and friends we’ve known all our lives—or neighbors we see everyday.

– You can’t fit a heartfelt conversation into 140 characters. Some people “tweet” to share helpful tips and links—not what we had for dinner. If we pick up followers that way, great! If we don’t, that’s okay, too.

– As for blogging and running social networks, I enjoy both. In fact, I run several blogs and two social networks primarily to communicate and share news with a specific group of people. I accept—and embrace—the fact that not every member will become a lifelong “fan” or “friend.”

Next time you visit the North Star Restaurant in your town, take note of how the customers interact with and care for each other. And take this message to businesses you work with: don’t overestimate the power of social media by underestimating the significance of authentic, lifelong friendships built on face-to-face conversation and trust.

Photo credit: Google Maps

3 thoughts on “Lessons from North Star Restaurant: the Strongest Relationships are Built in Person, Not Over the Internet

  1. You are exactly right. North Star is the antidote for the facebook world – personal, vital, real and generous (and you don’t have to play digital scrabble with your friend’s second cousin). Plus, it’s just so cheap. As a transplanted New Yorker, I love to take my northern friends there and when three or four of us have eaten, to hide the bill and have them guess the total price. A typical response when I tell them is “Oh, my God.” Three can eat breakfast for the price of one at IHOP (not that I don’t love IHOP).

    Of course, the blogger knows that Buchanan is a hidden gem in the blue ridge mountains, that deserves far more tourists, but which I hope retains it’s charming character and incredible environment.

    Thanks for your article.

  2. I also LOVE North Star and feel like I am at home when eating there. Debbie knows how to run a restaurant! Here’s to the best-kept “secret” in our lovely town.

    1. Every morning of every day I get up and head to the North Star Restaurant. It is my way of starting every day. I sit with the same group of regulars and we all have something to add to an ongoing conversation be it fact or fiction. The food is awesome. The fellowship is the best. I plan to move to Tennessee in a few months. I have been a resident of Botetourt County for over 35 years. I will miss my friends and food at the North Star more than I can put into words. Thank you Debbie and all your staff for such a special place. If you read this page and haven’t eaten at the North Star, you don’t know what you are missing.

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