On Thursday night, on its next-to-last day of operation, Mom’s Italian Villa at 1257 Market St. was abuzz with activity.
The entire staff – which included owner Randy Shuford, wife Allyson, son Chris and several others – were busily preparing food or taking care of diners, while a few other customers were patiently waiting outside on the benches for a table to open.
In a somewhat unprecedented scene, the restaurant has been serving overflow crowds all week, since the larger community of Chattanooga became aware it was closing.
In most cases, restaurants consider themselves fortunate and blessed if they get a big crowd just for their final day.
But with a long and unique history, a unique-tasting offering of foods, and an equally unique and cozy dining room atmosphere, Mom’s has found a large and loyal following over the years.
And many of those longtime diners just wanted to come back and formally say goodbye or taste one last time such favorite dishes as the pizza, the muffuletta sandwich, the spaghetti with the spicy sauce, the mouth-watering Italian bread, the antipasto salad, or the chocolate mousse pie.
Many of them have been coming there since Randy Shuford’s grandmother -- Ollie Parker, the original Mom – began offering Italian fare more than 40 years ago after already having been in the restaurant business since the early 1960s.
The demand has been so great this week that Allyson Shuford said she had to drive down to Bessemer, Ala., early Thursday to get some more pizza supplies to last through the week.
Randy Shuford said the support has been overwhelming and appreciated. Having to work long hours over the years in addition to developing a career as a college and high school football official made him realize the time had come to take a break, he said.
He has sold the building and hopes to catch his breath, be a grandfather, and be more available for his parents, former Hamilton County Commissioner George and Dot Shuford, he said.
But this week he has been admittedly sleeping only about four hours a night while taking care of everything in what has turned into a Mom’s Italian Villa homecoming.
To hear Randy Shuford discuss the big crowds this week, listen here.
To hear longtime customers Dr. Fred, Martha and Will Whitmire discuss their memories of eating at Mom’s Italian Villa, listen here.
To hear Martha Whitmire discuss her sadness over the restaurant’s closing, listen here.