CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

June 30, 2013

‘Good ol’ grandma cookin’ makes a popular gathering place

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — Out in the Bremen/Brushy Pond area there once stood a courthouse. The hub of the community, it was surrounded by a little settlement that depended mostly on the coal mines. Eventually, like so many small villages, it faded away as progress took the businesses into town where there was more commerce.

Out where the crossroads meet at Highway 69 South and County Road 222, in the same spot where the courthouse used to be, is another place where people in the vicinity come to gather. This time it’s not to pay their taxes, but instead to mingle, and, “eat some good ol’ grandma cookin’,” says owner of Stony Lonesome Café, Kathy Parker.

She and her husband, Gerald, former owners of Champion Personnel Services, thought they were ready to retire. Then a family member challenged them to open a restaurant.

“We always get together for the holidays,” Kathy explained. “We cook a lot and people were always asking why we didn’t open a restaurant.” So, four years ago, that’s just what they did.

And just like in the movie, “Field of Dreams” ….people came. Lots of them.

On any given day the place is packed. Some of the faces are familiar — regulars who come each day to eat, drink coffee, and/or socialize. The girls get there to start making scratch biscuits at 3:30 a.m. each day and by 5 a.m. the place is bustling, the parking lot starting to fill up with cars and trucks, and people like Mickey Hathcock are taking their first bite of an omelet. In Mickey’s case, the omelet was named just for him. “He special ordered it and then liked it so much that we gave it his name,” laughed Kathy.

The breakfast buffet is filled with fluffy yellow eggs, buttery Southern grits and gravy, hot homemade biscuits and home fries. The pancakes are always gone at the end of breakfast, when people start to drift out to begin their day.

Later, the lunch crowd will take their place. Some people eat three meals a day with the Parkers at Stony Lonesome. “People rely on this café,” said Kathy. “Some people just don’t cook anymore, and others come for the company.”

On Friday nights people congregate from just about everywhere within driving distance for the special all-you-can-eat catfish and seafood special. They also serve homemade pizza.

“Our best selling items are the chili cheese fries and the biscuit pudding, or peach cobbler, which we serve everyday,” said Kathy. “And everyone loves Mama E.O.’s Red Velvet Cake.”

Mama E.O. (Emma Swann, Kathy’s mother) is a fixture at the café, too. She remembers when the courthouse stood where she sits now. A fountain of historical information, at 84, she still cooks up a batch of fried pies sometimes and helps out when needed.  

Gerald’s sister, Ruth, manages the kitchen, making up gallons of sweet iced tea, and mountains of mashed potatoes for the buffet every day. The café turns out as much as 30 gallons of chicken and dressing sometimes, often as special orders around the holidays. “We went through 151 pans of special order dressing last Thanksgiving,” said Kathy.

Gerald’s fires up his smoker on a regular basis, smoking as many as 30 Boston butts at a time. “They sell as fast as we can take them off the smoker,” Kathy pointed out.

“You would think that this business would be seasonal, being so close to the lake, which brings in so many summer people,” Kathy commented. “But it’s not seasonal; it is like this year ‘round.”

“This is so much more than just a place to eat,” she said, her voice breaking. “It’s a community gathering spot. This is like family, if we don’t know people, we make it a point to make them feel welcome. We have such good customers who will bring us their produce and we’ll cook it up for everyone. People bring us baskets of fresh tomatoes, corn, blueberries, sweet potatoes, blackberries and lots of things that they grow locally. Just last week we had fresh strawberries from Jeremy Calvert’s farm.”

“People just can’t imagine the closeness of the people here,” she said.

It’s common to see a lot of working people in line at the buffet, as well as vacationers. Cullman Co-Op crews, deputies from the sheriff’s office, and home health employees who find themselves in the neighborhood at lunchtime make up part of the crowd. People appreciate the personal touch that they get here, as well as the quality of the food, the cleanliness of the dining area and the friendliness of the owners and staff, who know most of them by name. The shining stainless steel kitchen is immaculate. Stony Lonesome takes pride in consistently earning a high score with the health inspectors. “We maintain a 98 percent rating,” said Kathy proudly.

A lot of area high school students and college students have worked here after school and on weekends to help pay their way through school. One of the current employees, Brenda Hyde, is a WSCC Culinary Arts student, about to graduate soon. She says she will stay right here after she earns her degree, because she loves the atmosphere and the people.

Justin Abby also attends WSCC but will soon transfer to Athens for a degree in education. He is of the opinion that people come to Stony Lonesome because of the good-looking servers, such as himself. It is that quick sense of humor, flashing smile and willingness to work hard that makes this such a special place.

Miss Cold Springs High School, Haley Gay, is a senior this year. She serves up plenty of sweet tea with a smile for everyone who walks in the door.

For the Parkers, the reward for all the long hours and hard work they put in six days a week (they are closed on Monday) are the smiling faces, the comments at the register about how wonderful the food is, and the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment they get from their customers.

So when you crave some of that “grandma cookin’,” and nothing else will do, take a ride out past Dodge City to the crossroads at 69 South and Highway 222, where you’ll find food that tastes like it did when you were a kid, fresh and wholesome, and always served up with a smile.