When we moved to Collierville in 1971, the Townhouse was owned by Benny Benson, who worked full time at South Central Bell. A few years later, he sold the restaurant to Ed Young, another South Central Bell employee. It was during his ownership that I worked there for a short time as a busboy, earning less than minimum wage, but happy, at the age of 14, to have a job.
I left the Townhouse when I was 15 to work at Olde Colony Steakhouse, where I started as a busboy, and then when I turned 16, was promoted to cook. I enjoyed working in restaurants, and took pride in doing the best job I could do. As a result, at the age of 16, I was promoted to head cook, which meant that I was responsible for everything that went on in the kitchen.
In 1977, my Dad, also a full-time employee of South Central Bell, purchased the Townhouse. In order to pay for four kids to go to private school, he had been getting up at 3 a.m. everyday for several years to deliver newspapers and was ready for a change. He knew the restaurant hours would be long and hard, but he saw a good opportunity and took advantage of it. Of course, I left the steakhouse and went to work for my Dad. Since I had restaurant experience, I did whatever was needed, from bussing tables and washing dishes, to cooking, cleaning, waiting tables, cashiering, and placing orders with our suppliers. I loved working there! It was a family business, and we all pitched in. Dad would open for breakfast, then go to work, come back and work the lunch hour, go back to the office, and then come back and work until closing. Mama was there for long hours as well.
We were open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. When we bought the place, they had been opening on Sundays, but we eventually decided that we didn’t like to miss church, and closed on Sundays. Lunch was our busiest time. We had a cafeteria line and served old fashioned home cooking. Our cooks were Sis, Minerva, Geraldine, Willie May, Easter, Lois, Daisy, and some others whose names I don’t recall. They all seemed to be related in some way, and man could they cook! We served food like country fried steak and gravy, white beans and ham hocks, green beans and turnip greens with fatback (I think they used fatback with almost every vegetable), homemade yeast rolls, and homemade pies. We drew customers from nearby horse ranches and manufacturing facilities. When WalMart opened their store in the same shopping center, their employees would come in as well.
There was a “formal” dining room at one end which was used frequently by the local civic organizations for their meetings, and occasionally for banquets. The main dining room was furnished with booths along the walls and tables with chairs in the center of the room. At the other end, there was a lunch counter with stools that were affixed to the floor. Many of the afternoon coffee drinkers would sit there and chat while they drank their coffee and ate pie.
Our waitresses were typically working moms, doing whatever they could to get by. They were friendly, and most of the time fun to be around. We seemed to be on a continuous staff rotation with Olde Colony Steakhouse and the Sunset Diner, which was just down the road a couple of miles. Our customers seemed to make that rotation too. They would disappear for a while and we would hear they were frequenting the Sunset. Then they would start showing up at the Townhouse again, apparently unhappy with something or someone at the Sunset or Olde Colony.
When Dad bought the Townhouse, there were no national food chains in Collierville. During the three or so years that he owned it, Pizza Hut came to town, and then McDonalds. But the Townhouse was the place to go for good old-fashioned home cooking!
Collierville has since grown from a town of about 10,000 to more than 40,000. The area surrounding our location looks nothing like it did back then. But the Townhouse is forever in our memories. We often recall stories and events from our Townhouse days, and share a laugh at things that happened. Like the time our waitress made an angry customer laugh when she told him if he wanted meat on his burger, he should have ordered the “deluxe”. Or the time I put pepper in the cooks’ snuff can and was playfully (I think) threatened with a butcher knife. Or when my sister shut one of the cooks in the freezer …