Remembering Morrison's Cafeterias in Chattanooga

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Grand opening advertisement for the Morrison's in Eastgate Mall
Grand opening advertisement for the Morrison's in Eastgate Mall

In the 1990’s, like many Americans, I stepped up the emphasis on healthier food choices.  I subscribed for a while to Cooking Light magazine, and watched On the Menu on CNN.   I don’t think that my diet was that bad previously, but I did start watching calories, fat, sodium, and sugar levels a bit more.   I started looking for restaurants that supported my healthy diet.

Beginning with its local opening in the mid-1990’s, Morrison’s Fresh Cooking in Brainerd Village became a favorite restaurant of mine.   There, I could have choices such as rotisserie chicken, steamed broccoli and carrots, and a whole grain roll.   The speed of service was somewhere between the traditional cafeteria and fast food.   I would stop there whenever near the Brainerd area.

The parent company, Morrison’s Cafeteria, was founded in 1920 in Mobile, Alabama by J.A. Morrison.  In September, 1962, Morrison’s Cafeteria was one of several businesses to open in the new Eastgate Mall in Brainerd.  An article in the September 16, 1962 Chattanooga Times reported that the public could tour Morrison’s that afternoon.   A spokesman from the corporate office of Morrison’s said that his company had wanted to open a Chattanooga location for some time.

The Eastgate Morrison’s was decorated in motifs that included scenes from Chattanooga’s history.  There was the Farm Room with rustic beams and lanterns, the Railroad Room with a locomotive mural, a Steamboat Room with plaques of riverboats, and the Victorian Room with gilded windows.  Each Morrison’s location had similar designs which later earned the company recognition in the April 5, 1968 Time magazine.

The local Morrison’s became a favorite of residents, with lines often wrapping around the corner building of the mall.  Interstate bus drivers often stopped to allow passengers to go through the line.  That was not only because of the good food but also because the mall’s large parking lot offered the “40 acres to turn this rig around” proclaimed in the song of the same name.

Morrison’s also operated the employee cafeteria at Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company downtown.  The original location was on the seventh floor of the South building facing Fountain Square.   When the West building of Provident opened in 1983, the cafeteria was moved to the atrium level.  It was common to see not only Provident workers, but also Hamilton County elected officials and UT-Chattanooga professors.  The chess pie was a favorite of many.

The opening of Hamilton Place in 1987 attracted many of Eastgate’s customers and stores.  Morrison’s followed the trend by changing its address to Hamilton Place.   

The Morrison chain had faced competition from rival Piccadilly Cafeteria for some time.   In 1996, Morrison’s sold its Fresh Cooking division that included the traditional cafeterias and Fresh Cooking stores to Piccadilly. 

My favorite Fresh Cooking of Brainerd Village became a Piccadilly Express before being replaced by a Qdoba Mexican restaurant (another favorite).   Within the past year, I had to look to other addresses for my favorite diners, as the Brainerd Village Qdoba was converted to a Speedy Ca$h office.

If you have memories of Morrison’s - particularly of certain menu items - please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll post some of your comments in an update at the end of this article.

Reader Feedback

Their fried liver with onions was wonderful, as well as the rare roast beef with new potatoes.  The egg custard pie was my favorite dessert there.  The elegant servers made you feel very special.

I miss the Morrison's Cafeterias.  Their food was very good especially the Chicken Tampico. 

 



Aerial view of Eastgate Mall, with Morrison's on the front right corner
Aerial view of Eastgate Mall, with Morrison's on the front right corner

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