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Friday, June 21, 2024

Timepiece: Old South Restaurant

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By Dr. Curtis Varnell

World War II had ended and the age of the automobile was in full swing. All across America,
new style, pull-in restaurants were being constructed to cater to the needs of the modern traveler.
Along major highways, restaurants entrepreneurs constructed sleek new buildings with large
parking lots to accommodate families as well as the truckers who frequented the roads. Neon
lights flickered in the darkness to attract those who wanted twenty-four around the clock service.
Booths built around lacquered colorful tables allowed groups to sit comfortably while they
ordered and consumed the “special” of the day or the centerpiece food offered by the café. Many
of the restaurants expanded, offering their brand of food to the hungry highway travelers.
McDonalds, Hardee’s, and Dairy Queen became household names with stores along every major
thoroughfare.


Most Arkansans have fond memories of stopping in at AQ chicken or Minute Man and enjoying
time and a meal with family. Minute Man, developed in Arkansas, was known for fast service
and for their “radar” microwaved deep dish hot pies. AQ was a one of a kind chicken palace and
just the thought of those delicious hot buns and chicken cooking bring back childhood and
nostalgia for what is perceived a better and slower pace of life.
Many of those stores have gone the way of the dinosaur. Minute Man, once consisting of a chain
of 57 stores is down to one remaining at last count. A/Q recently closed its Springdale store and
ended a business that lasted three-quarters of a century. Other chains have adapted to the times,
destroyed the old type buildings, and replaced them with a modern design.
A few of those old time road house type stops still exist. A visit to the Old South restaurant in
Russellville is like a step-back into time. The neon lights still flash, the booths are still sleek and
waiting, and the country-style food is delicious. Build in a modular style in 1947, the building is
a part of local history and lore and is on the national register of historic places. Advertised as
serving two presidents and a king, one quickly recognizes which one people most identify with.
Elvis busts and pictures adorn the walls. The Old South once served a venue of deep fried food
including the fried honey bun and deep fried pickles. If Elvis wasn’t attracted by those, he
certainly could not have resisted the turtle pie, a local favorite still served today.
The Old South is located highway 64. The highway was once the most direct route from the east
to the west coast, connecting with route 66 in Tulsa. Famous travelers were attracted to its food
as well as to its never-closed venue. Bill Clinton was fond of the food offered there and
President Jimmy Carter once stopped in for a meal. Famous entertainers that visited included
Ernest Tubb, B.B. King, and Johnny Cash but it was the common working guy stopping in for
breakfast, coffee, or a delicious evening meal that has kept it open through the years.
Today, the Old South Restaurant looks virtually the same on the exterior and interior as it did
when constructed in 1947. It has a streamlined design, large rounded front windows, padded
booths, and lots and lots of neon lights. The menu still offers many of the same items that were
included in the original store. Visiting the place is like a step into the past with travelers and
working people enjoying coffee, pie, and conversation. The prices are reasonable and the
nostalgia is free.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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