Casteel retiring from KN Root Beer after nearly half century
Thelma Casteel has worked 46 years at the oldest restaurant in Graham, KN Root Beer, and will be retiring as manager from the restaurant she calls home on Feb. 1. Casteel grew up in Graham and started working at KN Root Beer on Feb. 3, 1971. Though she may have worked for more than 40 years at KN, the fact she worked there at all was a complete accident, she said. “My sister had applied and Glen’s wife called her to come to work and she had already got a job, so I said ‘I will come to work if you want to,’ and I have been here ever since,” Casteel said. KN Root Beer was opened in the spring of 1948 by Leslie Knutson, when the company’s first drive-in was opened in Marshfield, Wisconsin. By 1975, there were 30 KN drive-in restaurants in operation, but now only four locations remain, all of which are independently owned, Casteel said. Ownership of the Graham restaurant was held for 40 years by Glen Downey, who purchased the restaurant in 1966. Casteel, now 67, started working for Downey at the age of 20 and stayed with him until his passing in 2006, at the age of 81. “He was wonderful. He was just one of us and you didn’t even know he was the boss,” Casteel said. Casteel worked Monday through Friday for 40 years from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., returning for the night shift at 4 p.m. Now, she works from 4 to 8 p.m. those same days. Casteel has seen Graham grow and change into what it is today and one of the biggest changes, she said, was the move of business and commerce towards Hwy. 16 South. That highway is now the major roadway through the middle of Graham and to the square, but she said this was not always the case. “The big highway out here, it wasn’t here,” Casteel said. “This (Cypress St.) was the main highway out here and then they built that big highway through there, and everything moved out that way (toward Hwy. 16 South), and it’s really changed. This little street through here was called Packing House Road and it went all the way back and down to the river, back down behind Ace Hardware.” For the rest of this story, subscribe to our print or online edition.