When Larry Eubanks decided that making people smile would be his daily mission, he didn't plan on becoming a local celebrity.

All the same, most people who have been to Chick-fil-A on East Gate Drive in Aiken would probably recognize the face of the man who refills their drinks, takes their trays and greets everyone he sees.

"I just try to keep people happy," Eubanks said. "If they need something to drink or just want to talk, I do that. Sometimes they tell me their life's story ... I hear it all."

Eubanks has worked at Chick-fil-A for a decade. In that time, he has become a favorite of the restaurant's customers and a cherished member of the staff.

"Mr. Larry is earning all the brownie points for heaven," said Amber Lambert, marketing director of Chick-fil-A of Aiken. "His wings are going to be extra large, extra sparkly."

Eubanks was born and raised in Aiken. A graduate of Aiken High School, he can still remember when the city's bustling Southside was little more than quaint cotton fields.

The best of Larry Eubanks

"She (our Realtor) told us, you want to live on this side of town," Eubanks recalled. "She said that this was going to be where everything would happen."

Eubanks and his family lived in Columbia for a time. He moved back to Aiken with his wife, Susan, and his children after his father retired. He took over the family business, assuming ownership of several convenience stores across the city and other parts of South Carolina.

It was there that Eubanks can first recall his joy of welcoming people and making customers smile came to life.

"When I was in the convenience store business, a lot of people would come in the stores with kids 'cause they were going to work at SRS," Eubanks said. "They would be taking the kids to day care and such because their husbands were also working. They'd come in – a lot of them still in their pajamas – and they'd come running around the counter to hug me. And it would just make my day."

Eubanks said those children have grown up a lot since those days, and now they come into Chick-fil-A with their children to greet the same man that used to work behind the counter at the convenience stores their parents stopped at on the way to work.

"That was a long time ago, and now those children have children of their own, and they come in here," Eubanks said. "A lot of them have told me, I used to come in your store and hug you. Now, my children are hugging you."

Despite those happy memories, there was nothing convenient about owning convenience stores toward the end of Eubanks' career. He can recall the "horror" of having his employees robbed or having his stores broken into. Then the Great Recession happened and, like so many others who struggled during the economic downturn, things for Eubanks briefly went from bad to worse.

"I put it off for a while, not doing the right thing," Eubanks said. "... I was losing so much money that in the end, I had to get out of the business."

Eubanks chose to retire. That lasted less than a month. 

"When I retired in October of 2009, I sat out for about three weeks, and my wife said, 'You know, you need to find you something to do,'" Eubanks said. "I play golf, but I can't play golf everyday."

Eubanks mentioned his predicament to a friend of his, Tom Johnson, owner and operator of Chick-fil-A of Aiken. The two worship at Hillview Baptist Church together.

"I was singing in the choir one evening with Tom ... and I told him I needed to find me something to do," Eubanks said. "And I said, if anything comes up with Chick-fil-A, will you let me know? He said – this was on a Sunday – 'Can you start to work Monday?'"

Just like that, Eubanks suddenly had a new job. He started at Chick-fil-A of Aiken the day following his conversation with Johnson, and has worked at the restaurant ever since.

"I just have a good time," Eubanks said. "These people that work here are just like family to me. I have such close relationships with so many people here. I've seen so many people come and go ... some of them are in nursing homes, and some of them passed away."

Eubanks said his experiences working for Chick-fil-A have been a "blessing." He hugs his coworkers every morning when he sees them.

"In the evening, I hug them all again, 'cause I don't know if the Lord will leave me here or not," Eubanks said. "They're like my family now."

Eubanks also has family in Aiken and around South Carolina. He and his wife, Susan, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

In his decade of working as a hospitality host at the restaurant, Eubanks has only taken a break from work twice – once in 2010 when he was battling cancer, and once in 2018 when he had a knee replacement. 

"He was certainly missed both times," Lambert said.

In fact, Eubanks is so appreciated that the restaurant held a celebration called "Mr. Larry Day" in his honor in 2015 to honor his years of hard work on East Gate Drive. The event had such a profound impact on Eubanks that, years later, he is still moved to tears when he remembers it.

"A lot of people came that day," Eubanks said. "They didn't even eat. They just came to hug me. It was something else."

In addition to greeting people at Chick-fil-A, Eubanks and his wife greet people at their church. Eubanks also does ministry work at Shadow Oaks Assisted Living, a nursing home in Aiken.

While sharing his life's story is easy, Eubanks dislikes praising himself or his accomplishments. His coworkers, however, have no problem bragging about his contributions to their team.

"His heart for people and for service is unmatched," Lambert said. "You won't find a better person that embodies the values of Chick-fil-A. It is our pleasure to have the opportunity to work alongside Mr. Larry every day, to watch him turn people's attitudes and people's days around.

"To see someone have that kind of impact, it inspires you," she continued. "You want to have someone be that kind of person. He's the best role model that we could possibly have here. We love him dearly and appreciate all he does."

Although Eubanks is in his 70s, he doesn't plan on retiring from Chick-fil-A any time soon.

"I'm going to stay as long as I can, as long as I'm able to work," Eubanks said. "... Somebody said, 'Mr. Tom is probably going to put you in a wheelchair and sit you in that foyer to greet people.' I said, that's alright with me."

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.