Shirley’s Diner Has Been Serving Leland Since 1979
Serving up seafood and southern home cooking is what Shirley’s has done best for over 30 years. Whether it’s for the popular pork chops, country fried steak, oysters, chicken, homemade coleslaw, or sweet tea, people from all over the area, as far as Southport, come for a bite to eat amongst friendly faces.
PHOTOGRPAHY BY Lee Ann Bolton
Quietly tucked away off of Village Road in the Clairmont Shopping Center, Shirley’s is one of the first and oldest restaurants in Leland still in business. With a track record like that, it was sure to have a unique history. So one day, Barry Jethwa, owner of Shirley’s, sat down in one of the booths with North Brunswick Magazine and shared his story.
“This interview really brings me back,” says Jethwa. “These are things I haven’t thought about in a long time.”
Jethwa is originally from Kenya and had spent time living in London before finding his way to Wilmington with his family in 1980. He was in search of the ‘American Dream’.
“I bought a motel on Market Street at first,” says Jethwa.
Meanwhile, a couple opened Shirley’s in 1979, naming it after the wife. At the time, it was a freestanding building located across Village Road from its current location.
“It used to be where the CVS is now,” says Jethwa. “There wasn’t much here. It was before Leland was incorporated. I believe the McDonald’s had just opened, there was a bank, a gas station, and a grocery store.”
The owners put the business up for sale a few years later.
“I think they just wanted to get out of the restaurant business,” says Jethwa.
Jethwa sold his motel and bought Shirley’s in June of 1982. He was going to change the restaurant’s name to his own wife’s, but decided to keep it Shirley’s since it already had a healthy following from the area’s locals.
Being new to the restaurant business, Jethwa had a lot to learn. He relied on Shirley’s staff to show him the ropes.
“One of the first things someone said to me when I came into the kitchen was ‘put some water on for grits’. I said, ‘What are grits?’”
“People would say, ‘You bought a southern restaurant and don’t know what grits are?” said Jethwa. “I didn’t even know the difference from dark and white chicken meat. I had to get used to the Southern accent and the way of cooking.”
Jethwa quickly caught on and was a success.
In July of 1999, after seventeen years in the business, he, too decided to close Shirley’s. He went back to England for six months.
However, he soon returned to Leland. Jethwa’s old landlord convinced him to open up Shirley’s again; this time in its current shopping center location, in what used to be a Blimpie’s Sub Shop.
“The locals missed Shirley’s, so I opened again on December 22, 1999,” said Jethwa. “The first few days I reopened, I ran out of food. Customers were standing in line waiting to get in. The most amazing thing was that they were so emotional that they were hugging me. Many of them even gave me dollar bills for good luck. I still have them. They are in frames and they line the wall in the back of the kitchen.”
Jethwa has seen many restaurants come and go on Village Road, but Shirley’s has proudly stayed; all the while, with its business continuously on the upswing.
“…Enough so that it help me put two boys through college,” says Jethwa.
One would never suspect that he once knew nothing about southern cooking.
“I learned from everybody, here and there,” said Jethwa. “Now people tell me, ‘this tastes just like my grandma used to cook.’ I am surprised that I can cook like that now.”
Jethwa says the most important thing about his business is his customers and the people he works with. He welcomes everyone who comes through the door with a warm smile, insisting they eat. His focus is to provide a homey feeling and to treat everyone like family.
“People used to tease me and say, ‘You came in search of the American Dream, and here you are flipping burgers,’ but the people [customers] like me, and I like them; I keep going.”
One day he hopes his son will take over the business so Shirley’s will continue to live on far in the future.
Visit Shirley’s at 112P Clairmont Shopping Center (Behind Pizza Hut) off of Village Rd. in Leland, Monday-Saturday 11AM-9PM, Closed Sunday. For take-out call (910) 371-2890.