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Earl W. Northrup, owner of Earl's Restaurant in Chaffee Nov. 26, 1934 -- May 14, 2012

Earl W. Northrup of Chaffee, owner and proprietor of the iconic Southtowns restaurant that bore his name, died Monday in the Pines of Machias. He was 77.

Known throughout the region and beyond for its hometown cooking, large portions and low prices, Earl's Restaurant on Route 16 in Chaffee drew customers from Western New York, Pennsylvania and beyond.

Featured on the popular Food Network television show "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," Earl's most famous items included its pies, chicken and dumplings and "fruit jar" drinks.

Mr. Northrup ran the popular restaurant for more than half a century before closing it in 2007. It reopened for a while by popular demand but closed again early this year.

News of its closing even made the New York Times, which said the restaurant was a diner that "fed the body and soul."

As news of his death spread throughout his community, friends remembered Earl as a friendly man, who with his late wife, Marilyn, started a small hot dog stand in 1956 and built it into a 150-seat destination restaurant.

"When you walked in, everyone said hello," said Arlene Kirchmeyer, whose husband, Jim, was a childhood friend of Earl and attended school with him in a one-room schoolhouse.

Kirchmeyer, who remembered Earl "always walking around the restaurant in a Western shirt and cowboy hat," said she and her husband ate at the restaurant four or five times a week.

"It was like you were eating at home," she said. "It just had that homey feeling, very down to earth. It was such a country relaxed atmosphere. The food was just so good.

"I've never been to a restaurant when you go there and you sit down you don't realize you're eating restaurant food," Kirchmeyer added. "It was unbelievable."

Earl's even drew a crowd after its closing, when more than 200 people showed for an auction last month to bid on items, including hot fudge pumps, Pyrex dishes and "boot leg" tables.

Mr. Northrup also was a huge music fan, bringing in country, bluegrass and gospel groups for concerts behind the restaurant. He also collected John Deere tractors, was a bus driver for the Holland Central School District and was an active supporter of Future Farmers of America.

A native of Arcade, Mr. Northrup married his high school sweetheart, Marilyn Rosenthal, in 1955. She died in 2002.

Survivors include a son, Audie; a brother, Charles "Ed"; and four sisters, Margaret Comstock, Alice Jeanne Mould, Linda Harrington, and Alberta.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Pioneer Christian Fellowship Church, Route 39, Arcade.

-- News Staff Reporter Helen Jones