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Restaurant reopens after salmonella outbreak forced shutdown

Jill Steele knows it will take a while for her family's restaurant to recover after undercooked turkey on its buffet was blamed for one of the largest outbreaks of food-borne illness in South Carolina.

But Steele is more concerned about the hundreds of people who were sickened than financial losses for The Old South restaurant. "These people are our extended family. It's more about the love in here than the money," she said. "There's still a sadness in all of our hearts. It's something we'll always live with."

The restaurant reopened at 6:30 a.m. Friday, about three weeks after the state Department of Health and Environmental Control began investigating diners' complaints of food poisoning.

DHEC investigators blamed undercooked turkey for sickening more than 300 people. The death of a 58-year-old Lugoff man also was linked to the salmonella outbreak.

Still, regular customers came Friday to show support for the restaurant's owners.

"This was a terrible accident," said Brenda Cox of Camden, who stopped by on her way to work. "I hope that they'll be able to recover because it's a nice place," she said. "Time will tell."

John Lynch and Rudy Osteen were the first customers in the door. The closing disrupted the pair's tradition of stopping in for the $6 buffet on Friday mornings on their way to the golf course.

"They've got the best homemade biscuits in town," Lynch said.

"They're good people," Osteen said of the Hatfields. "Extremely good people."

Betty Hatfield opened the country-style buffet restaurant in 1999 when she says her life was at a low point. Hatfield's father had died of cancer earlier that year. "I was home waiting to die after my daddy died," Hatfield said.

Then, that summer, she spotted a "for rent" sign in the window of a closed-down restaurant.

Hatfield's parents, Ruby and Charlie Scott, had owned a restaurant in downtown Camden for decades. But it closed in 1989, and Betty Hatfield had moved on to a manufacturing job.

The prospect of opening a new restaurant lighted a fire behind Betty's eyes. After persuading the building's owner to let her have the place with no money down, Hatfield sold her jewelry to get enough money to buy a secondhand serving buffet. "I hocked every ring that I had," she said, even her wedding rings.

The rings were the family's first purchase with their profits from the restaurant, which became a popular eatery in Camden.

She got every one of them back and hasn't had to worry about paying the bills since, said Steele, Hatfield's daughter who runs the dining area of the restaurant. Her brother, Jeff Hatfield helps run the kitchen.

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