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Friday, January 04, 2013 10:22 AM

Staff members: Drivers closing as 2012 ends

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer

While the rest of the world was counting down to the end of 2012, staff members at one Ottawa business were counting down to a different sort of end.

Drivers Sports Cafe, 222 E. Logan St., Ottawa, planned to close its doors to business 2 a.m. Tuesday after its scheduled New Year’s Eve festivities, staff members said. It was to be the last celebration of its kind for Drivers after six years of service to the Ottawa area. 

Staff members were notified Monday morning of the business’ closing by the owner, Bob Clements, they said. Clements was unavailable Monday for comment. 

Employees embraced each other with hugs in the main dining area of the two-story bar and grill. Several flat-screen TVs broadcast sports events and signs advertising various alcoholic beverages plastered the walls. Posters advertising “Happy Hour” were scattered throughout the bar. Members of the 13-person staff gathered at the bar to console each other. Manager Lisa Drake-Pickering tried to hold back tears as she spoke about the tight-knit nature of the coworkers at Drivers. 

“It’s super sad. We’re like a family. We really are like a huge family. It’s not like corporate America,” Drake-Pickering, an employee of Drivers for six years, said Monday. 

In the restaurant business for 20 years, Drake-Pickering said she could see the writing on the wall of the business’ impending closing, but still was not ready for it to end. And she said she didn’t know it would happen so fast. Sporting a Drivers hat and T-shirt, Drake-Pickering discussed her plans moving forward.

“Really I don’t have a plan other than to stay here and close down tonight,” she said Monday, adding she wasn’t worried she and the rest of the staff wouldn’t be able to find jobs.

Financial difficulties and the fact business had been slow for the past few months took its toll on the small business, Richard Andrews, head cook, speculated, adding he didn’t know the specifics of the business’ finances. 

  Clements owns similar sports bars in Overland Park and Emporia that were more successful, he said. 

“It’s kind of sad to see her go, and I know that there’s going to be a lot of people that will miss coming here,” Andrews said. 

Serving traditional American food — steaks, chicken fingers, appetizers, hamburgers — staff members said Monday they didn’t know the plan for the building’s future. It’s likely, Drake-Pickering said, the food inventory will be taken to one of Clements’ other restaurants.

Clements was a good boss and worked hard to keep the place going, she said.  

“They are the best people — you have no idea how good they are,” Drake-Pickering said of Clements and his wife, Lana. “They worked here for nothing. They didn’t have paychecks and they were here every day.”

The former president of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, Tom Weigand, lauded the restaurant’s location in a Herald article written before the business opened. 

“It’s very visible,” he said at the time. “Everybody who sees it loves it.”

The wraparound porch, hardwood floors and sports decorations gave the bar a welcoming family atmosphere, Drake-Pickering said. She said she felt bad for the “regulars” who came in every week, noting they wouldn’t be able to say goodbye.

“I think that they are losing a great restaurant with really good food,” she said. “There’s nothing like this in town. This is one of a kind here.

“I think we all lose a piece of something here today, I really do.”

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