Downtown Dining Decision: S & W Cafeteria or the Home Plate?

Eat your vegetables!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Grand-opening day advertisement for the S & W Cafeteria
Grand-opening day advertisement for the S & W Cafeteria

When the weekday lunch hour arrives, there are many downtown workers to be fed.  They leave their desks at banking, government, insurance, legal, and other types of offices.  Many head for favorite downtown restaurant, whether locally-based or part of a chain.

Wind the clock back to 1950, and one would still find the types of employees whom I mentioned.  However, there were more of them. 

There were more locally-based banks and insurance companies, each with a headquarters that housed everyone from entry-level employees to the CEO.  Chattanooga also still had passenger rail service in 1950.  Both the Terminal Station and Union Depot had many hungry employees and customers exiting the building in search of a meal.  Downtown was a thriving retail center, so it was common to combine a shopping trip with a meal.

In 1950, if your mom’s advice to eat your vegetables was on your mind, you could find good home cooking at either the S & W Cafeteria or the Home Plate restaurant.

S & W CAFETERIA

The S & W Cafeteria was located at 823 Market Street through to Broad Street from 1932 to 1981.  According to a July 14, 1970 Chattanooga News-Free Press article on S & W, the restaurant chain was founded in 1920 in Charlotte, NC by two World War I Army mess sergeants, Frank O. Sherrill and Fred R. Webber.

The Chattanooga branch of S & W opened on January 19, 1932.  The Chattanooga Times carried a full page advertisement on opening day.  The restaurant was noted as being all-electric, and having sterilized china and silver.  The building had capacity to serve conventions, while maintaining an “at home atmosphere.”

On opening day, many residents and tourists ventured into the S & W’s mirror-lined dining room on the first floor.  They were able to view the modern kitchen and bakery on the second floor.  Fifty employees served customers, and some used a Dictaphone service to communicate orders from the dining room to the kitchen.  The average cost of a meal was around sixty cents.  A flower was given to each female customer, through the supply of 2,500 roses ran out around 2pm. 

A November 19, 1976 Chattanooga Times article described some of the S & W’s history over the next few decades.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s, female servers dressed in evening gowns carried trays and poured coffee and tea for customers.  On Thursdays, music to eat your vegetables by was provided by the orchestra of George Rogers.   Many of the employees of S & W remained with the cafeteria for decades.

In the late 1970’s, the S & W began operating the cafeteria at Sears at Northgate. 

Like other downtown businesses, the S & W building gained a modern exterior by installation of a façade.  The sheathing covered one of Chattanooga’s older buildings, since the S & W moved into an existing structure.  However, this wasn’t enough to reverse the migration of customers to suburban shopping centers which later opened.  The loss of passenger rail service dealt another blow to their customer base.

S & W closed on August 14, 1981.  Announced in the June 28, 1981 Chattanooga News-Free Press was the purchase of the building by Franco, Inc., a Cleveland, TN-based franchisee of the Hardee’s chain.  For about three years, Hardee’s served customers in the former S & W location.  The building was later demolished, and the property was eventually redeveloped for a new office building to house the A.G. Edwards financial firm.

 

THE HOME PLATE RESTAURANT

Unlike the S & W, the Home Plate was a Chattanooga-based business.  The Home Plate’s founder was William C. Hudlow, who entered the food service business in 1927 with the Green Lantern restaurant.   Mr. Hudlow was also a dairyman in the Sequatchie Valley for thirty-five years, and served on the board of the Bonny Oaks School.

According to an article published August 7, 1977 by the Chattanooga News-Free Press, the Home Plate opened in 1928 as a table-service restaurant.  In 1953, Mr. Hudlow converted the eatery to a cafeteria format. 

The Home Plate’s location on the northwest corner of Seventh and Cherry streets was opposite the site of the original Krystal restaurant.  The location was in proximity to the major downtown retailers – Loveman’s, Miller Brothers, J.C. Penney, and Sears.  Employees of the court house, Provident and Volunteer State insurance companies, and local banks could easily slide in for lunch at the Home Plate.

Like the S & W, the Home Plate had employees who remained with the business for decades.  The aforementioned News-Free Press article included an interview with Lawrence Royal, who had risen from dish washer to chef in over twenty years at the cafeteria.  He told of making cat head biscuits that averaged three inches in diameter.  “I never get tired of cooking,” said Mr. Royal.

The Home Plate was well-known for home-cooking that included strawberry short cake, according to one reader of this column.

 I can only recall one meal there, unless I’m not remembering some visits during shopping trips with my parents.   I went there for a big lunch on a Friday, since I was taking an afternoon Greyhound Bus out to Memphis.  I was glad to have feasted at the Home Plate before the trip, because the bus ride along US 72 included stops at most every town of any size.  I can still hear the driver calling out, “Iuka,” a city in north Mississippi.

The closing of the Home Plate was reported in the February 4, 1987 Chattanooga Times.  There were plans at the time to redevelop the entire block between Sixth and Seventh streets.  Only a portion of the plan came to fruition.   The closing of the Home Plate closely followed the end of the line for George’s Hamburgers, another long-time eatery that slid out of existence in July, 1986.

 A branch of the Soup Kitchen later opened in the former Home Plate building.  This was a very popular restaurant during the 1990’s, but eventually closed.  I was a regular customer, and enjoyed their choice of breads that accompanied the varieties of soup.  The Soup Kitchen continues to operate stores in Knoxville, Lexington (KY), and Oak Ridge.

In recent years, the building has been the home of Scenic City Miniature Golf.  

If you have memories of the S & W Cafeteria or the Home Plate, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll select some of your feedback, and include as an update to this article.

 

READER FEEDBACk

I remember many meals at the Home Plate with Ed Lehman, Paul Lohorn, and other area musicians, because the Home Plate was in the same block as O J Bailey's and Al Miller's Music stores. S & W was nearer the House of Music, home of Chattanooga's sheet music, frequented mostly by pianists. You would do well to do a story about O J and Al, if you have not already. They helped launch a lot of musicians in Chattanooga.  Both were treats for me, because of the quality of the food and the company. 

 Well, of course, we would always go to the S&W Cafeteria.  I would always have spaghetti.  After dinner, we would visit Sears.  Daddy would buy me maple candies and he would shop the Craftsman tools.



The Home Plate cafeteria at Seventh and Cherry streets
The Home Plate cafeteria at Seventh and Cherry streets

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