A few days after my mother’s funeral, my daughter and I stopped for breakfast at Yana’s Restaurant in Swansboro, in Onslow County. We were bound for Bear Island, the site of remote beaches and salt marshes that were among my favorite places growing up.
Perched over the White Oak River, Yana’s occupies an old building that once held a drugstore and soda fountain in the mid-20th century. Fish packinghouses, an icehouse, and docks lined with shrimp trawlers surrounded the building in those days. Now their neighbors are gift shops and antique dealers, but it’s still a lovely place to look at the water.
Yana’s is the heart and soul of old Swansboro. Locals flock there for Yana’s famous fruit fritters all year, and during the summer plenty of tourists join them. Breakfast or lunch—Yana’s closes at 2 pm every day—there’s always a line in the summertime. Most days the line moves quickly. If you’re willing to sit at the counter, like we did, you rarely have to wait at all.
The proprietors have decorated the little cafe with insouciant fondness for the 1950s. Posters of muscle cars and ‘50s icons like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley adorn the walls. Many of the cooks and waitresses seem to have worked there since I was a lad. They treat you with a radiant warmth and openhearted kindness, whether you’re a native or newcomer.
The place was practically bursting at the seams, but none of the staff looked flustered. Everybody was smiling and friendly. Our waitress brought us delicious breakfasts, too. I had 3 pancakes filled with fresh fruit—blueberries, strawberries, and peaches.
While he peeled fresh peaches for pancakes and fritters, one of the cooks asked where we were from and what brought us to town. I told him that we were headed to Bear Island for the morning. As we talked more, I also told him about my mother and how we had buried her at the little country church where she had grown up.
He nodded and said “Sorry about your mother. He got caught up in a flurry of kitchen chores and we didn’t really chat anymore. But later, as we finished our breakfasts, he reached across the counter and handed us, unbidden, a plate with two fresh peach fritters, that—if he ever reads this—I want him to know, meant the world to me.