Remembering the Sailmaker and Fifth Quarter Restaurants

Sunday, November 13, 2016 - by Harmon Jolley
Match cover featuring the Sailmaker
Match cover featuring the Sailmaker

Mention Shoney’s Big Boy to practically anyone who lived in Chattanooga in the 1960’s, and recollections will be shared of meals after church or football games, or as a date night dining destination.  Restaurateur Alex "Shoney" Schoenbaum became a Shoney’s franchisee in 1952 in West Virginia.  Soon, Shoney’s Big Boy hamburgers and other menu items were served in many cities including Chattanooga.  Mr. Schoenbaum sometimes appeared on stage as a sponsor in the 1960’s when the Chattanooga Symphony performed for area school groups at the Memorial Auditorium.

Shoney’s became the Big Boy chain’s largest franchisee but later operated without the Big Boy name.  Raymond Danner acquired Shoney’s in 1971 and the company went public the same year.  In order to diversify, Shoney’s began other restaurant brands with their own cuisines.  Captain D’s began in 1969 as a fast seafood format.  Two casual dining brands, the Sailmaker and Fifth Quarter, became part of Shoney’s family along with Shoney’s Inns which served an increasingly mobile population.

The Sailmaker opened in Chattanooga in 1977 on Brainerd Road near the Spring Creek Road intersection.  This was the fourth Sailmaker joining others in Birmingham, Nashville, and Jacksonville. 

Staffing the new restaurant wasn’t limited to the usual interviews of those with cooking or serving experience.  The Sailmaker wait staff was encouraged to dress as celebrities.   In a June 12, 1977 Chattanooga News-Free Press  article on the Sailmaker, the restaurant manager asked “Where else can you get a good meal in six or eight different settings and have Captain Hook, Superman or Alice in Wonderland stop by every few minutes to make sure everything is okay?”  Some members of the wait staff also dressed as Groucho Marx and Liza Minelli.

Menu items at the Sailmaker included seafood such as crab, flounder, lobster and Shrimp Tempura.  The menu also featured steak choices of filet mignon, prime rib, and sirloin.  In keeping with the Hollywood theme, the salad bar was housed in a boat resembling the African Queen.  A local touch was a jail cell from the old Hamilton County jail.

In 1982, the Sailmaker was converted to a Fifth Quarter Steak House.   In an interview reported in the October 7, 1982 Chattanooga Times, a Shoney’s official said, “We’ve found the Fifth Quarter to be more acceptable, especially in a beef town such as Chattanooga.”  The menu did contain seafood choices but was tipped more towards steak.  The Fifth Quarter had an enormous salad bar that was twice the size of the African Queen in the Sailmaker.

A Shoney’s Inn was located near the Sailmaker/Fifth Quarter site for several years.  Both the restaurant and the inn eventually closed as the construction of Hamilton Place Mall replaced Eastgate as the shopping center of choice.

There is not a lot of reference material available on the local Sailmaker and Fifth Quarter.  If you have memories of these restaurants, particularly if you once worked as one of the “celebrity” wait staff, please share your memories by sending me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll post some of the responses as updates to this article.

Memories of Readers

I was a server at Sailmaker/Fifth Quarter.  My service spanned from 1981 – 1984, but I don’t remember dates exactly.  We had Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, a clown, cowboys, and all kinds of others.  For most of the time at Sailmaker, I was Pocahontas, even though my costume was more a Southwest Native American dress.  I wore long braids, and a feather hanging in one of the braids.  My character didn’t speak any more than necessary, since she probably didn’t know English.  It was usually well received by my guests.  During the last month of Sailmaker, we all changed costumes and characters frequently for fun.  I was even a cheerleader for a few days.  We had more fun than a lot of restaurant jobs I had before and after.  

Opposite side of match cover depicted the Fifth Quarter
Opposite side of match cover depicted the Fifth Quarter

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