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Al's Chickenette to close its doors today





A long-time family-owned restaurant in Hays will serve its last meal today.

Al's Chickenette will close its doors at the end of business hours, ending a 60-year run of specializing in serving fried chicken dinners in the same building at 700 Vine.

The restaurant plans to open at 11 a.m. and close "when we run out of food," said Noel Schmidt, head cook and son of owner Donna Schmidt.

Noel Schmidt cited rising product costs and the poor economy for the decision.

"We probably knew for a while but just fought it off," he said. "We've been coasting. We did really well until about 10 years ago."

Since then, he said, business has "steadily decreased."

"They're raising taxes, and we can't keep fighting it," Schmidt said. "We can't keep raising our prices (for customers), but if we don't, we go under."

"There are a lot of restaurants in Hays for the size of this town," he said. "And there aren't very many mom-and-pop places left here."

Noel Schmidt was 14 years old when his parents, Rich and Donna Schmidt, bought the restaurant in 1976.

Noel worked off and on at the restaurant for 33 years along with his siblings, Allen Schmidt and Lina Miller, who both still live in Hays.

Rich Schmidt died in October 1998, and his wife and family continued running the business, celebrating the restaurant's 50th anniversary just six months later.

Coincidentally, the restaurant celebrated its 60th anniversary in April of 2009, and Lucille (Bieker) Befort -- who later remarried after the death of her first husband, Al Bieker -- died in October of last year.

Now, one year later, Al's is closing for good.

Six family members currently work at Al's, including Noel Schmidt's two sons, Kody, 17, and Blaine, 14.

"Most we call family anyway," Schmidt said. "Everybody here is considered family."

Schmidt said he is unsure of his future plans past today, when he also is unsure of what to expect for business.

"We're never busy on Halloween," he said, admitting that this year might be different.