Now that I've been retired for a few years I find myself reminiscing every now and then about places I used to go and people I would interview. Very few places provide memories that could top eating at Roy Pepper's Porch in the early 1980s. It was located in a building just outside Northgate Mall in Hixson. That building is still there but the restaurant has been gone for many years. Roy Pepper's Porch specialized in ribs and boy were they good. If I remember correctly they also had big dinner rolls that were baked in a small ceramic flower pot and they would absolutely melt in your mouth.
Roy Pepper's Porch was also where the Atlanta Braves Caravan would take the Chattanooga media out for dinner after they put in an appearance at the Mall, signing autographs and meeting fans.
The late Wayne Minshew was the Braves' Director of Publicity back then and he would bring players, managers and broadcasters along with him. It's not like it is today when rookies and AAA players visit Chattanooga. Back then you would always see guys like Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, and Phil Niekro in town along with Braves' broadcasters Ernie Johnson, Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren. That was a star-studded stable of Braves' celebrities in the early 1980s and in 1982 those guys were joined by rookie manager Joe Torre.
Sitting at dinner with these guys was amazing. I found all of them to be delightful to be around and they seemed to be sincerely happy to be there. If they weren't, they were all really good actors. Nevertheless, in early February each year, we would receive first a letter from Wayne Minshew, then a few days later a phone call reminding us to be there. In 1982, the guys at my table were Neikro, Torre, Van Wieren and Murphy. That was pretty good company because while we were seated at dinner, my questions and their answers were anything but a formal interview. Murphy talked about his Mormon faith, Neikro talked about his favorite catchers who caught his famous knuckleball, and Van Wieren who was one of my all-time favorite sportscasters, spoke about some of the other things he did besides baseball.
Then, there was Joe Torre. I had remembered watching him play with the Braves a decade earlier and prior to coming to Atlanta, Torre was the manager of the New York Mets, his first managerial job. I had good feelings about the Braves after the Caravan left town that evening, and sure enough the Braves set a record for wins to start a Big League season, when they won their first 13 games in 1982. They went on to win the NL West but were swept by the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.
Having dinner with the Braves was a lot of fun, but was made much better by the great food at Roy Pepper's Porch. As I mentioned, those were two great reasons for eating there. Man I sure would love to have one of those rolls in a flower pot.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com