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Column: Another look at some oldie but goodie cafes
Johnny Vardeman

Long gone restaurants cook up a heaping helping of nostalgia for longtime Hall Countians.

Judi Turner, who now lives in Nashville, remembers her grandmother, Birdie McKinstry, taking her to lunch when she was a child on Wednesdays at the Wheeler Hotel on Main Street, just off the downtown square. Still, in her mind’s eye are little green metal pots holding hot water for tea.

Local radio listeners might remember Birdie as she was a frequent caller to morning shows, especially when the late Jim Hartley was on the microphone.

Another Judi Turner memory: Little Paul’s Café across from the old courthouse at 115 East Spring St. Her grandfather, Ray Hemphill, managed Jake Sacks store on the square, and it’s back door was right across the alley from Little Paul’s back door. 

“Best steak sandwiches I ever had,” Turner says. Noama Pugh ran the café and later the grill at Gainesville Junior College when it opened in 1966.

Kerith Gaines Smith has happy recollections of Happy Pappy’s restaurant on Ga. 60 North before you get to Corinth Church. Her parents Terrell and Judy Dyer Gaines owned it, and her grandmother Rosetta Tarpley Dyer cooked a lot of cakes, pies and other menu items. Kerith was in the fourth grade when the Gaineses opened Happy Pappy’s. She named the restaurant after her grandfather Glen Gaines’s citizen band radio handle, “Happy Pappy.”

Her grandmother’s sister, Bertha Tarpley Emmett, and husband Clarence ran the Dairy Dip on Cleveland Highway. Still another restaurant connection — her grandmother’s sister-in-law, Ruth Tarpley, founded Mama Ruth’s on Atlanta Highway.

Scott Kinney’s family used to drive to Gainesville from Talmo to visit the Georgianna Restaurant on Atlanta Highway and Lakeshore Restaurant in the beginnings of Lakeshore Mall. As a youngster he enjoyed the buttery Captain’s Wafers with the house salad.

Another memory for him was Café Julius on the lower level of Dixie-Hunt Hotel/Hunt Tower in downtown Gainesville. Julius himself — who was always dressed in a starched, pressed dress shirt and smart tie — would greet customers at the door or at their tables.

Then there was the slaw dog and cherry Coke at Whatley’s Pharmacy, and servers wearing seafoam green uniforms and hats at Woolworth’s lunch counter.

Johnny Nivens remembers George Lawson opening Blackbeard’s in the old McLellan’s building in downtown Gainesville in the mid-1970s. French cuisine was the main menu fare. After ownership turnover, the restaurant featured an Elvis impersonator, but it later lost its alcoholic beverage license because of violations and eventually closed.

Another not-forgotten eating place was Tracy’s Barbecue at Quillians Corner in North Hall. And Seabones at the corner of Washington and Main in downtown Gainesville where Dress Up! is today.

Perhaps those recollections will dredge up memories of other eating places in days gone by.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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