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For Irma, it has been a 'labor of love'
Irma Collins, 84, sits in her restaurant, Irmas Kitchen, which she opened in 1976 in Argyle. When she was young, Collins said she always dreamed of owning a diner in a small town. She has since passed the torch to her three youngest daughters. To order either photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

If you go ...

What: Retirement party for Irma Collins and 40th anniversary open house for Irma's Kitchen. Refreshments and door prizes.

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Irma's Kitchen, 336 E. Milwaukee St., Argyle

ARGYLE - When longtime customers and newcomers alike enter Irma's Kitchen along East Milwaukee Street in Argyle on Sunday, they will witness the end of an era.

It will be a celebration - with cake, refreshments and door prizes - all to honor one person. Irma Collins, 84, will officially retire after founding the restaurant 40 years ago. However, her three youngest daughters, who have owned the homestyle diner since 2000, plan to continue their legacy for some time. Patty Noble and Joyce Flanagan, Collins' two youngest daughters, each have two daughters of their own. They hope to pass the baton in decades to come.

"This might be Mom's retirement, but we're not closing up," Noble said. "We're moving forward, and hopefully we can see this place succeed decade after decade."

Collins dubbed the restaurant in her name on advice from her father, who helped her buy the property. She said her husband, Wayne, was also supportive of her endeavor. After all, Collins had dreamed of owning a diner from a young age, when she was still learning the techniques of baking and cooking from her mother.

Noble was 10 when her mother took over the restaurant on Aug. 2, 1976. Flanagan was 12. Both spent their adolescent years aiding the family by working at Irma's, though their first visit was eye-opening.

"That first day, I could have just closed up shop and went home," Collins said. "Every-thing was just patched together. Fuses were blowing and nothing was working right."

In walked two of her eight daughters, curious to see the new shop her mother had taken on after former owners had simply served a burger or two a day. It was a big change, and a strain on the building. The two women said they had a dish towel thrown their way, and the rest was history.

Flanagan has been cooking at Irma's Kitchen since 2000. Noble serves at the front of the restaurant, hoping to make everyone feel welcome. Their sister Janet Fox, who formerly operated Fox's Feathercreek Bakery in Monroe, took over on the baking side. Irma's Kitchen boasts of homemade meals, from its doughnuts to its special Saturday cinnamon rolls. For years, though the family farmed until 1996 in rural Argyle, Wayne worked at the grill while the lone Collins son came in to help run dishes.

"She gave us a strong work ethic," Noble said.

The years have seen changes, from renovations to improve the design of the business to less positive developments, like the closure of other local businesses.

"Every time something in town closes, you feel it," Flanagan said. "Especially in a small town. It affects everybody."

Irma's Kitchen has remained a staple amongst the change and has even adjusted to it over four decades. Collins said the food, especially the pie, is what keeps customers coming back. Noble and Flanagan agreed, but shared another opinion.

"Everybody loves Mom," Noble said. "Everybody loves Irma."

The business has grown with Collins, who said she genuinely likes people, especially children. Employees and patrons, whether they are blood-related, become family as they return over time. Flanagan and Noble remarked on the losses of people they knew so well over the past two years, but have remained positive as they see a new generation of customers curiously venture into the cozy restaurant. Noble said they provide good service and homemade meals and want to continue the work their mother started.

"If I could say anything about my time here, I would truly call it a labor of love, " Collins said.