Debra McClish has been involved in the food industry since she began playing waitress as a child.

Taking family members’ orders and preparing dishes from their own groceries, McClish earned her candy bar and soda money from her early “waitressing” days. Now, she brings her cooking skills to the public at her new restaurant in Chesterfield, Aunt Debbie’s Diner and Pizza.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for years and years,” said McClish, who has more than 20 years of experience working in restaurants, from serving to managing.

The patriotic-themed restaurant at 420 Anderson Road in Chesterfield serves American classics, like sandwiches and burgers, as well as dinner specials and desserts. Pizza is McClish’s specialty, and she adds her special seasoning she gets from Arizona to every slice.

The restaurant offers a lunch and dinner buffet with items that change daily. But McClish’s real creativity shines through in her kids’ meals, the inspiration for the restaurant’s name.

McClish’s 23 nieces and nephews — including great-nieces and great-nephews — loved coming to her house to eat, where she would serve them people dogs (hot dogs shaped like people), melty cheese (grilled cheese) and peanut butter and jelly kites, all items she keeps on her kids’ menu today.

“I have an awesome kids’ meal,” McClish said. “(My nieces and nephews) always say, ‘Let’s go to Aunt Debbie’s to eat.’”

Aunt Debbie’s also has a full breakfast menu, served 8-11 a.m. every day. Pizza delivery starts at 4 p.m.

As one of the few restaurants in Chesterfield, McClish sees it as her duty to feed the town without making them drive to Anderson or nearby cities to eat out. With high gas prices, she hopes her restaurant keeps people in town and able to eat at reasonable prices.

“I wanted to have something different than what else was out there,” McClish said. “I try to keep (prices) reasonable for the working people. I want to be here for the people.”

Aunt Debbie’s opened to the public two weeks ago with a grand opening event last week. Business has been growing steadily since opening day, but not without its share of problems.

“This is my very first (restaurant),” McClish said. “It was hard for me at first. I kept hitting bumps.”

Less than a week after opening, Aunt Debbie’s was robbed, McClish said. Thieves came in and took about $400 one morning while McClish was in the back making food for the day. After trying to open a restaurant for months — one she tried to start in Alexandria failed — the robbery was a blow to McClish.

“It’s starting to catch up,” she said. “I think the community’s behind me.”

Aunt Debbie’s includes some of McClish’s recipes, as well as those passed down from her grandmother. Other recipes come from her best friend, Tracy Fairchild, who is the restaurant’s manager.

“It’s a lot of homecooking,” McClish said.

The restaurant’s modest decorations include American flags as well as red and blue booths and table cloths. Photos of McClish’s nieces, nephews and godchildren line one wall of the restaurant, reminding McClish and her customers where Aunt Debbie’s got its start.

For McClish, who had been on disability for eight years, getting out and opening her own restaurant was dream come true. In the past year, she has been cleared by her doctor to drive again and went back to school for an accounting certificate. She put her money knowledge together with her love of cooking and serving to bring Chesterfield a new restaurant and employ nine workers.

“I hope it just gets really big,” McClish said. “I really want it to succeed and we’re here forever.”

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