VAN, TX (KLTV) - Although the town of Van has little more than 2,500 residents, its Dinner Bell Cafe outshines most big city restaurants at Christmas.
"I use a lot of things my mother made, the big elephants and the reindeer and all the stuff, animal things she made and the elves and stuff," says owner Debbie Stone. "Of course kids of all ages like the fun decorations outside, but once you get inside, well it's a winter wonderland."
Inside the Dinner Bell, the decor turns to a beautiful, peaceful, blue color, which is a total change from past decorations. But then, every year the Dinner Bell's Christmas decor is different, and thanks to its owner, Debbie Stone, it's been that way for the past 38 years.
"It started with me just kind of wanting to make it more festive inside," says Stone.
Each year became a challenge for Debbie and her staff to outdo the year before. The word spread and soon people were coming from far and near to see the special handmade, Christmas decorations at the Dinner Bell.
"It is a lot of work, a lot of cost, but just the look on their faces when they come in," says Stone.
Over the years the Dinner Bell Christmas decorations grew until they filled three warehouses. Each year some of the old, handcrafted pieces were added to new items for a totally different look, until Sunday, May 10 of last year, when a devastating tornado hit Van.
Even though the Dinner Bell was lucky, with only the loss of a few shingles, the cafe's Christmas decorations took a big hit.
"Later on because of the tornado we had floods downtown that cost me a lot of my decorations in the buildings out back," says Stone.
At first, Debbie didn't know if she had it in her to start all over again, but then she decided she couldn't disappoint all the people who looked forward to Christmas time at the Dinner Bell.
"I think if we hadn't done it, it would have been a disappointment and also would have seemed like everything went by the wayside," says Lynn.
As the town of Van recovers from the devastating tornado of 2015, its citizens, like Debbie Stone, lead the way. And while the Dinner Bell may be a little restaurant in a little down, the spirit of Christmas here, is as big as it gets.