Home for some is where one lays their head to sleep at night, while for those who love to cook, any kitchen would fit the description.
Darlene Smith, the lady behind the homemade pies at Happy Days Diner in Pauls Valley, has spent her share of time in more cooking locales than most and could not see herself doing anything else. Take a bite of her culinary works and it is easy to see why she has no problem finding satisfied customers.
“Both mom and daddy cooked and I learned from both of them,” said Smith, a native Texan who was born in Ft. Worth. “It’s about the only thing I really liked.”
Smith, who has lived in Garvin County near Stratford for 19 years, attributes what she’s learned over the years cooking to growing up in a home where it was both encouraged and a necessity. Her mother recently reminded her of cooking her first meal, which was meat loaf and mash potatoes, when she was nine years old with a determination that she wouldn’t even accept help in cutting the onions.
Smith’s love for all things oven related that led to a lifetime career started back when she was about 12 and worked in both a nursing home run by her parents as well as a soda fountain at a local drug store in Clarendon Texas. She prepared everything from sandwiches to hand mixed fountain drinks through the experience and her jobs after that included other places like the Bronco Drive-in where she was a carhop.
Smith started working for Reza Ghanaati, owner of Happy Days, before the restaurant opened back in January 2009 and was transferred from one of his previous establishments. She later joined him in Pauls Valley to help the former Denny’s turn into the eatery it is now. Her duties cover anything that needs to be done, including serving, running the front register and helping cook meals.
Smith’s pies, which have brought the most pleasure to the palate out of what she makes in town, came about through discussion between her and Ghanaati not long after the diner opened. Ghanaati had asked for a pecan pie after he found out she could make them and it didn’t take much convincing to add what she could come up with to the menu.
The most popular pies among customers are the cream pies, including coconut, chocolate and lemon. She has all the ingredients delivered to the restaurant where the pies are made and has also found success through pies like peanut butter as well as one that might raise a few eyebrows, green tomato.
“Lemon and peanut butter are my two favorite pies,” said Smith, added that she even has on occasion made zucchini pie. “Just about every one I’ve made will sell real well, but it seems they will get tired of some of the more unusual flavors and go back to the three most popular.”
Smith’s talents have even been picked up by her children, three boys, who can all do well in the kitchen. One of the few things she said she never quite mastered was making homemade biscuits, switching to frozen biscuits after her son told her in the kindest way possible that she couldn’t match up to the pre-made versions.
Smith noted that the best thing about being able to cook for people is that she is able to relate with them like they had been her friends all along. Her pies have brought her pride from the display window where people remark on how nice they look to being apart of the conversations for locals and travelers.
“I think it’s the people, they become a part of your lives, you get to see them all the time and you can tell if they are having a good or bad day,” said Smith. “Everyone of them has their favorite, so you can never just make one... The older folks that remember making those pies will say it tasted like their mom used to make.”