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Bill Kirios, icon of mill village and operator of Schoolfield Lunch for decades, dies at age 90
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Bill Kirios, icon of mill village and operator of Schoolfield Lunch for decades, dies at age 90

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While it still was open, Danville resident Rick Adams usually ate at Schoolfield Lunch about five times a week. While the food — especially the hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries — were a major attraction for Adams, it also was the atmosphere and the people who drew him there so often.

On Friday, Bill Kirios, the last owner of the family-run diner that operated for 96 years, died after a brief illness at the age of 90, leaving his family and army of former customers with fond memories of food, stories and “a unique place” just across the street from Dan River Mill’s Schoolfield facility.

They also remembered Kirios as an iconic figure of the mill village.

“He never had anybody but a friend come in and sit down at the counter,” said Mike Hangelia, a Schoolfield native who grew up going to the restaurant.

Originally known as Scholfield Wiener Stand, the diner was opened by Kirios’ father, William, in 1914 in a location just up the street. After the death of Kirios’ father when Kirios was just 6 months old, his uncle ran the restaurant until Jimmy Kirios, Bill’s brother, could take over.

The two brothers ran the restaurant together for decades until Jimmy died in 1998. During the height of the Schoolfield Mill village, the diner was a favorite of employees and was one of the amenities offered to employees of Dan River Inc. — meaning they could have money deducted directly out of their paychecks for whatever they spent there.

When Danville annexed Schoolfield in 1954, the diner continued operating independent of the mill.

Kirios, who worked at the eatery since 1945, continued running the diner for the next dozen years after the death of his brother, finally electing to shut the place down in 2010 because of the closure of the mill in late 2005, the loss of his brother and a weak economy.

Friends and former customers described Kirios as “super well-liked,” a “people person” and a “great storyteller.” Even as one of the busiest restaurants in the area, former patrons said he called each of his customers by name.

“I think Schoolfield Lunch was probably the last of its kind. … I think that was an atmosphere and a certain sense of family that you see in the restaurant that you don’t see nowdays,” Hangelia said.

Adams remembers going to the restaurant at lunch time and having to stand against the wall and wait for someone to vacate one of the many stools that surrounded the restaurant’s U-shaped counters.

While known for its hot dogs, the restaurant served a wide array of food including breakfast options, chicken, spaghetti, meat loaf and roast beef.

Once Hangelia had kids of his own, he would take them to the diner often, just as his parents had taken him and his grandparents had taken them.

“There’s a lot of good memories up there with Billy,” he said.

Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Newman grew up going to Schoolfield Lunch, a diner right across the street from Dan River Mills where his grandparents both worked.

“It was sort of passed down to me from my parents from their parents,” he said of the diner.

He would go for lunch during his high school years, he would meet clients there as an attorney and he even decided he would run for commonwealth’s attorney while sitting in the restaurant on a Saturday morning.

Larry Oldham, who lived in Danville from the mid 1970s through 2018 and ran a record store in the Ballou Park Shopping Center for much of that time, said he would go to Schoolfield Lunch almost every day for lunch. He loved the food and the atmosphere, “where everybody would just sit there and talk to each other,” but he also enjoyed talking to Bill.

“I think that I went there because of Bill,” he said. “He was somebody that I admired and somebody that I think was a real personality for Danville.”

Oldham remembers Kirios as an intelligent, friendly man who could turn stern quick if someone gave him trouble or if an employee wasn’t keeping busy.

“They were really good people, a good family,” Hangelia said. “They were a part of the history of this community and always will be.”

Adams, who is the funeral director at nearby Towns Funeral Home, is helping the family with arrangements as the family is planning a “celebration of life” at a later date, once the social distancing guidelines and stay- at-home orders are finished.

Photos from the final day of Schoolfield Lunch in 2010:

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.

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