If a town is lucky, they have that one place where everyone enjoys going. It’s the place where you run into friends, meet visitors, and enjoy delicious food. It’s where something fun is always happening. The most important thing is, when you walk in, you’re not just a customer- you’re a member of the family. For Williamson, that place is Starter’s Sports Bar & Grill.
Twenty-five years ago, Michael Brewster along with Kathe and the late Pierce Whitt, decided it was time to open a business in Williamson. Kathe remembers Michael kept bringing up the idea to Pierce to open a sports bar. Finally, Pierce gave in and that’s where the adventure began.
After working on the space, the owners decided on a local sports theme for the space. The restaurant was decorated with framed sports jerseys from area teams. Pierce brought in the old scoreboard from the Williamson Field House. The menu items were named after local teams and businesses. Anyone remember the Wolfpack Burger? Starter’s was ready to open.
On April 4, 1994, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship game was played in Charlotte, North Carolina. On that same day in Williamson, West Virginia, Starter’s Sports Bar & Grill opened for business.
“We were so busy that night. It was overwhelming, but in a good way,” remembers Kathe.
Rebound and Score
Most business owners will tell you, not all years are sunshine and rainbows. Outside of the constant hard work that goes into operating a small business, there will be lean years. How does a business make it through? Starter’s could be a role model for surviving and coming out on the winning side.
Kathe says, “We’re constantly changing. We’ve remodeled, torn out walls, added the front garage door, new flat screens. We’ve tried catering, new menu items, specials, trivia night, and karaoke nights.”
The sports bar is also one of the most trail-rider friendly establishments in town. With Williamson being a trail-rider friendly town, riders can come off the trails on their dirt bikes and ATV’s,and drive directly downtown. It’s common to see street parking near Starter’s lined with dirt bikes, side by sides, and ATV’s. Many of the out-of-town riders are repeat customers. With annual riding groups coming to visit Starter’s for as many as fifteen-years now. Along with the sports jerseys, the walls are lined with tons of photos from the trail-riders that come to enjoy the food and fun at Starter’s. Kathe refers to many of the trail groups as friends now.
Then, there’s the bands. Most weekends you’ll find live music happening in Starter’s. The musicians usually come back more than once, because just like everyone else, they have a great time here.
You’re probably wondering, how much more can one local sports bar do? Plenty. Almost every holiday is celebrated. Valentine’s Day Dinner, Super Bowl Parties, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, and the annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.
“One of our friends, Kara Vance, wanted to start the annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. So, we did. It was so much fun. Everyone loved it. Then, Kara passed away the next year. We decided we had to carry on this tradition. It’s one of our favorite celebrations,” remembers Kathe.
The Home Court
Whether they are giving financial support or enthusiastically participating in community events, Starter’s is ready to help. Their presence is felt in the local artists scene as they have opened their doors to host the “Open Mic Night presented by #LoveWilliamson: The Art Brigade” for the past two years. Local festivals and markets hosted by the Tug Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau like the downtown summer Night Markets, Spookfest, monthly 5K’s organized by the Tug Valley Road Runners Club, the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon, WillCon Pop Culture convention, and so much more find a backer in Starter’s.
“We want our town to do well. We want people to enjoy their visits, businesses to grow, and our community to have new things to do. This is our home and we love it,” says Kathe.
“We’ve had and still have wonderful staff here. It makes me happy that so many have stayed here over the years. They’re like part of my family,” says Whitt.
Over the years, a lot of the staff has remained the same at Starter’s. Younger staff members have “grown-up” and worked their way through college while employed there. Even those that no longer work at Starter’s still look back on their time there with warm memories.
Staci Hackney-Moore worked at Starter’s from 2002 through 2010 and says she could’ve worked there her entire life.
She says, “I couldn’t have asked for better bosses and friends than Kathe, Pierce, and Michael. Kathe is still one of my best friends. Starter’s has such a hometown feel and true appreciation for their customers. I made lifelong friendships, not just with the staff, but with many of the customers. From the Monday night church group that came in, to the trail rider group from St. Louis that visited every year- these bonds are priceless to me. I even met my husband at Starter’s on St. Patrick’s Day in 2009-with a little help from Kathe.”
Over the years, the ownership has stayed basically the same. Michael Brewster is no longer a co-owner, but Kathe is quick to point out he is always willing to help. He was a vital part of the business for a major part of the last 25 years. Brewster still finds his “home” in Starter’s. The other member of the original trio, Pierce Whitt, passed away in 2015. While talking about her late husband, Kathe is emotional, but says she knows Pierce would be happy with how Starter’s has continued to evolve. Over the last few weeks as the business prepares to celebrate their 25th anniversary, customers are sharing “throwback” photos on the business Facebook page. Many of the photos show Pierce laughing and having a good time with friends in Starter’s. That’s what Starter’s Sports Bar & Grill is all about. Friends, family, and supporting the community.
While talking with co-owner Kathe Whitt, you understand she loves her town and she is passionate about her business. Kathe is always humble when given compliments about the sports bar. When asked about being named a recent Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce spotlight business she smiles and says they’re happy to do whatever they can to help the town. Later, while talking about Starter’s being recognized as a WV Living Magazine 2018 Regional Award Winner for Best Watering Hole, she again is pleased for Starter’s to win the award but gives the credit to everyone that works there and supports the business. That kindness shows in the way she operates the business.
Note: If you’re wondering who won the 1994 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, it was the Arkansas Razorbacks overs the Duke Blue Devils 76 -72.