The 'Board of Directors'
By Cara Taylor

Raymond Kitchen, owner of Kitchen's Auto in Paris, walks out of the shop's front office. Raymond has been working on cars since age 9 when he fixed the flooding carburetor in his uncle's '53 Buick. Raymond's shop has become the daily meeting space for a number of other older men, affectionately dubbed the "Board of Directors" meetings.

In the nondescript red building at 102 Stoner Ave., the aromas of coffee and gasoline mix in the morning air. In the back room of Kitchen’s Auto Repair, a group of men sit in a u-shape of mismatched chairs and a faded red church pew facing a small wall-mounted TV. Weathered Chilton auto repair manuals dating back through decades stand dust-covered on the bookshelves that line the walls of the room. The morning meeting of Kitchen's Auto’s “Board of Directors” is officially in session.

For the past 10 years, a group of 6-10 men have gathered each weekday morning at the small auto repair shop near downtown Paris where they talk about everything from world events to local gossip. Kitchen’s Auto has been around for more than 40 years, started by Vietnam veteran and auto repairman Raymond Kitchen. Raymond works alongside his son Jeff, grandson Tyler, and longtime friend Bobby Dryden.

People trickle in throughout the morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and maybe a donut if someone’s brought them in, before finding a seat in the small back room. Aside from Raymond and Jeff, the members of the group include a retired state trooper, a roofer, several Vietnam veterans, a retired truck driver and a smattering of others who come and go throughout the week. Ricky Tubbs, a Vietnam veteran, is one member who comes every morning. Ricky started coming several years ago after bringing a truck in for repair and has since spent his weekday mornings sipping coffee with the rest of the Kitchen's Auto crew. “Just kept coming back,” he says.

The gatherings started slowly, Raymond says. They began informally when he owned a service station in downtown Paris. “There was always at least one (person), but in the last 10 years it’s been this every morning,” says Jeff with a nod toward the rest of the men chatting in the room. Once Kitchen’s Auto moved into its current location on Stoner Avenue in 1990, more and more men started joining the morning meetings.

The community has been good for his father, Jeff says, especially since the passing of his wife, Rosemary, in 2018. “It keeps him busy, keeps him moving,” Jeff says about the morning meeting group and the cars that come in for repair.

The same can be said for the rest of the “Board.” For many of the men, the community in Kitchen’s Auto gives them a connection that was lost after retirement. Wayne Wagoner retired three years ago from truck driving. “I wasn’t doing anything in the mornings so I started coming here,” he says. Wayne often stays past the usual end of the gathering at 9 a.m., joking and laughing with Raymond, Jeff and Bobby as they work.

At 78, Raymond still gets up every morning to open the shop and work on the steady stream of cars that are brought in for repairs. Perhaps more importantly, though, is to spend time with the other members of the community he has helped create. The men who gather at Kitchen’s have created a community where they offer each member of the "Board" a sense of connection and support – and a healthy amount of teasing.

Raymond pours coffee for Chuck Newbury during the “Board of Directors” meeting in the early morning hours at Kitchen’s Auto. The gatherings provide meaningful connections for this group of Paris residents.

Bobby Dryden (from left), Raymond, Wayne Wagoner and Jeff Kitchen sit around the small table in the back of Kitchen’s Auto enjoying a lunch of beans, cornbread and potatoes prepared by Wayne’s wife. On some Fridays, one of the regulars at the “Board of Directors” meetings brings lunch for the group.

Wayne and Bobby are familiar faces at the morning gatherings at Kitchen's. Bobby is known as the group’s troublemaker, often playing pranks and playfully jesting with fellow regulars. One of his favorite pranks is putting vaseline on the inside of car door handles.

Wayne sits and watches Jeff as he works to repair a vehicle. Jeff says he's been working on cars "ever since he was old enough." In his younger days he not only repaired cars, but raced them.

Jeff uses a flashlight to illuminate the underside of a vehicle he's evaluating for repairs. He says working on a car can be like a puzzle and when you figure it out, it can be very rewarding.

Jeff's son, Tyler Kitchen, checks the oil in his grandfather's 1966 Plymouth Barracuda he's helping restore. Tyler is not only the third generation of his family to work at the small auto repair shop, but also the third generation to work as a firefighter.

A bird house with a sign that says "Kitchen's Auto" hangs from the ceiling in the back room of the shop where the "Board of Director's" meets.

A set of wrenches hangs on the side of a workbench in the shop.

Old auto repair manuals are stacked on a bookshelf in the back room of Kitchen's.

Jeff removes a flat tire from a local farmer's trailer outside of the shop.

River, the furriest member of the “Board of Directors,” waits for his daily allotment of treats.

Three generations of Kitchen men – Jeff, Raymond and Tyler – stand for a portrait in the family's auto repair shop. Founded by Raymond nearly 40 years ago, the shop has become a staple in the area not only for their skill but also for the community they've built around the shop.