Cindy Robertson never for a minute believed in ghosts — that is, until she moved into her new restaurant outside Cherokee. And she’s not alone.
A mysterious presence has made converts of every restaurant owner who’s moved into the building in recent years.
Robertson had her first encounter when she was preparing to open Cindy’s Diner. Robertson was painting the walls when she felt a tug at her sleeve. When she turned around to see who it was, she spotted an elderly man standing at the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen area.
Robertson went over to investigate, but the stranger had disappeared.
“I thought it was my cook trying to scare me,” said Robertson. “He thought I was trying to scare him.”
Since then, Robertson has seen the ghost poke his head around the corner of the building on several occasions. Each time she walked over, though, no one could be found.
One morning, Robertson walked into a sweltering restaurant. “The stove had been turned up,” said Robertson. “We check it two, three times before we leave ... it was on high. It was so hot that it was white.”
The ghost has even turned off the stove during the day when everyone else is around, Robertson said.
Other times, Robertson has walked up to the restaurant to see that their sign had been moved to block the entrance. Employees usually bring the sign inside and rest it at the side of the door each evening.
“There’s no way wind could get in the inside,” said Robertson.
A perplexed Robertson called Clint Menacof, whose family owns the property, to find answers. Menacof wasn’t at all surprised by her inquiry.
Though Robertson hesitated to divulge the full details of her experience — for fear of being perceived as crazy, Menacof pressed her for an exact description of the presence. He wanted to verify that it was the same description given by the previous restaurant owner and staff.
“That’s the thing that makes it kind of difficult to discount,” said Menacof. “You’ve got two different tenants with no knowledge of the other one.”
A curious coincidence
Both owners have said that the “ghost” is unlike the kind we see in Hollywood movies. He is tall and slender with dark hair and glasses.
“He’s not like some vague, hazy figure,” said Menacof. “He appears as a solid, real normal person — to the point, they can tell he’s wearing glasses or what clothes he has on.”
Based on the descriptions given to Menacof by those who’ve encountered the ghost, the ruling hypothesis is that the it is none other than Lester Arnold, Menacof’s wife’s great-uncle and the owner of Arnold’s Drive In, which occupied the building for years.
To confirm his suspicions, Menacof brought in pictures of Lester, who passed away in the last decade. Robertson verified that the man she’d seen bore a very close resemblance.
According to Menacof, nothing could have swayed either restaurant owner to believe that Lester might still be around.
“They knew nothing about the building, nothing about its history, nothing about who Lester Arnold was,” said Menacof.
Arnold first popped up during the Mexican restaurant’s stay in late October 2007. It was just around the Day of the Dead festival, when spirits are offered their favorite treats overnight.
Unfazed upon learning about the ghost, the Mexican restaurant’s owner asked Menacof if Lester liked beer and left some out for him that night. Shortly thereafter, Lester wasn’t encoutered again by the owners.
The Mexican restaurant moved out in late 2008, and Cindy’s Diner moved last year. Lester wasn’t seen at the diner until around late October again.
Lester’s family believes that his disappearance come late fall has a lot to do with the off-season, which roughly begins in November. It’s a time when most restaurant owners, like Lester, board up the place and head into vacation mode.
“Everyone could take a deep breath and start to enjoy the winter,” said Menacof.
But when the tourist season gets cranking again, Lester may make a reappearance at Cindy’s.
“I’m curious to find out what happens in April or the first of May,” said Robertson.
Whether Lester shows up or not, Robertson says she fears little about his presence.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Robertson, though she tries to avoid coming in early by herself.
Though staff at the Mexican restaurant all confirmed they’d seen Lester, Cindy’s employees have been more hesitant. Only one has admitted coming across something out of the ordinary. She heard someone say “Hey” a few times when no one else was around.
“I think they don’t want to admit what they see in here, but they see and hear it,” said Robertson.
Meanwhile, regular customers are itching to catch a peek at Lester, Robertson said.
If they do, they have little to worry about, according to Menacof.
“While he was alive, Lester was one of the nicest people you would ever meet,” said Menacof.