When Herb McCandless opened Herb’s Creamland in Ashdown, Ark. in 1954, he could not have known that he would fuel the heart and soul of his community, one meal at a time.

From the moment I stepped into the red restaurant with the white shutters, I could tell that this place was special. The bustling cook staff scurried happily about the open kitchen, while everyone who dined there greeted one another by name as they gratefully chowed down on tacos, hamburgers and spicy Cajun fries.

Herb’s is timeless and simply done. It supplies the lifeblood of the community, keeping the pulse beating gently and steadily by serving up tasty eats at low prices, a tradition that won’t likely change soon.

Soon after the eatery opened in the mid-50s, Herb’s became a popular hangout among locals. Even when other restaurants were segregated, Herb never turned anyone away.

“He fed people from all walks of life,” says Randy Needham, who currently leases Herb’s at its latest location at 116 Dutch Webster Drive. “He let blacks in and didn’t let social and economic differences separate people. Everyone was welcome.”

Here, judges and lawyers sit beside mechanics and farmers, dining companionably together as a community that is reminiscent of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.

Randy showed me a daily record journal that Herb had maintained in 1958. Each line indicated how much money had gone out to pay for expenses, how much came in as a profit, and how much Herb gave to the church every Sunday.

“I started working for Herb in 1975,” Randy says. During that time, he always noted that while Herb would always pick up a penny off the ground, he’d also be the first to feed a customer who couldn’t pay or to loan money to someone who needed it more than he did.

“These things speak to Herb’s generosity and faith, as does the fact that the restaurant has never been open on Sundays, which has always been reserved to worship the Lord,” Randy says.

Even customers who move away from Ashdown regularly return for an Herb burger. “One lady came in and said she had worked here in the 60s,” Randy says. “She asked if Herb was still living and said that he had always been one of the nicest men she’d known. I called Herb was happy to help reunite them.”

Others continue to visit because the restaurant’s recipes haven’t changed, and they can get the same food they ordered in 1954 and it tastes exactly as it did back then. Recently, the Ashdown high school classes of 1981-83 had their reunion and they all visited the restaurant en masse, happy to visit their favorite high school spot.

“When I train my staff,” Randy says, “I make sure they understand there are certain ways we put our food together. This consistency is what keeps people coming back.”

Over the years, some patrons came in so frequently, their favorite orders have been named after them. Coby Markle, owner of Coby’s Auto Heat and Air, says that folks can come in and order a Dewey Burger, named after his brother, and they know they’ll get a double dry with no ketchup, because that’s how his brother always ordered it.

“Or they can order a Dr. Kyle,” says Coby’s wife Robbie, “which is a hamburger steak with double green beans.”

“Dr. Kyle always said that was healthy for you,” Randy recalls.

And even though the staff’s faces have changed, if you come in looking for Herb, he’s still around. He comes in every day to take lunches to the paper mill, while his wife Helen comes in every Tuesday to make her famous onion rings.

“Things don’t change much around here,” Randy says. “We still take pride in our community and show love for other people, just the way Herb taught us.”