Step inside the Red Door Cafe and the spirit of the building’s old days as a boarding house wafts through the air in the form of homemade meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, or chicken and dumplings.

In an old, beautifully restored house at 324 4th Avenue Southeast in downtown Cullman, the Red Door has been operating three years. But the house has served several purposes, including a stop for hungry folks when a woman known as Miss Leta served downhome cooking for visitors.

Many of those recipes are what draw crowds from the community, and quite a few visitors passing along Interstate 65.

Monday through Friday, the Red Door offers a traditional meat and vegetables — that’s meat and two or meat and three. Or all veggies, if you like.

Saturday, patrons are served breakfast throughout the day or anything else on the main menu.

“We saw that people wanted the old-fashioned blue plate type of lunches; it’s what a lot of people remember fondly from the old cafes and they come here knowing we will have that type of food,” said Bill McCartney, the owner and founder of the Red Door.

“Younger diners are discovering the classic lunch menu, too, and helping spread the word,” McCartney said. “We’re seeing people come by to gather with friends, to play Bridge, or have business meetings.”

The Red Door has space upstairs for private meetings, while the first floor has a large main dining room and two separate rooms for gatherings.

“We’ve met some goals in a short time — making a friendly, relaxed atmosphere for meetings and casual dining. We’re also seeing people make new friends just by coming in frequently and seeing each other. It’s been an amazing experience to watch people come together and have a good time,” McCartney said.

While the Red Door is a business venture, it also carries a community mission as a place that helps local charities. Organizations have used lunch ticket sales to raise money for church trips, backpacks for children, as well as serving as a collection point for coats to give to needy residents.

“We’re always looking for ways to help in our community,” McCartney said. “Cullman has long been a caring and giving community and it’s great to be a part of that.”

While customers have their favorites on the menu, the old standbys of meatloaf and macaroni and cheese seem to stay atop the demand. The meatloaf is from Miss Leta’s boarding house days, and the mac and cheese is the original baked style with real cheddar.

Others are finding breakfast a mainstay. From traditional breakfast platters to the signature Red Door omelet with a variety of fillings, the offerings at the counter are making a lasting impact for diners.

“The omelet is something that’s going over really well. You can make an omelet that’s tasty and healthy with the ingredients we offer,” McCartney said.

But never think the one will be same as the next at the Red Door. New menu items appear regularly and there are always plans underway to provide diners with a new experience.

“We may see some new steps this year, but we definitely want to keep what people have enjoyed so much,” McCartney

said. “We listen to our customers and like to bring a few surprises to the table.”

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David Palmer has decades of experience in the newspaper industry. He currently serves as editor of The Cullman Times.

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