Paul Payne: Losing The Long Horn Means A Piece Of Our Heritage Is Forever Gone

  • Thursday, February 15, 2024
Susan Danner, left, and her husband Charlie have operated the Long Horn Restaurant for the past 16 years. The iconic North Shore establishment is slated to close its doors on Feb. 23.
Susan Danner, left, and her husband Charlie have operated the Long Horn Restaurant for the past 16 years. The iconic North Shore establishment is slated to close its doors on Feb. 23.
photo by Paul Payne

When I moved back to Chattanooga eight years ago after three decades in Alabama, one of the things my wife and I looked forward to was visiting many of the area’s vintage restaurants I remembered from my childhood.

While landmarks such as Fehn’s, Town and Country Restaurant, The Loft and Lamar’s met their demise during the years I was away, there were still plenty of historic staples that were on our bucket list.

Places like Mount Vernon, Zarzour’s, Bea’s Restaurant, Nikki’s Drive-In, Wally’s and The Long Horn Restaurant were still around, giving me several options to reconnect with my past.

But we lost Mount Vernon, which existed from 1955-2017, to the new Publix on South Broad. Nikki’s (1941-2020) has been demolished to make room for condos. Zarzour’s announced it was closing after 106 years last fall, and yet still remains open after an attempt to purchase the building fell through.

Sadly, you can add another name to the list of staples soon to fall by the wayside. The Long Horn announced on Thursday that it will close its doors for the final time on Feb. 23, creating another void in Chattanooga’s dwindling old-school restaurant options.

The Long Horn, located on North Market Street as a bastion of simplicity amid the trendy transformation of the North Shore community. It opened in 1959 and was purchased 16 years ago by Susan and Charlie Danner, who also owned T-Bones Café on Chestnut Street for 18 years before shutting it down in 2017.

The menu has been virtually unchanged since the early years, serving breakfast and lunch with a Southern flair in the quaint setting that can accommodate only 22 guests at a time. But the inability to arrive at a satisfactory resolution to renewing their lease has left the Danners with no option other than closing the restaurant.

But the Long Horn is more than a diner. It is an institution, a fixture in the lives of its loyal patrons.

The thought of walking away brought Susan Danner to tears when discussing it Thursday afternoon.
“I’m devastated,” Susan said. “When I bought this place, I knew some of the people from other businesses I’ve been in and from our boys running T-Bones. These became family. You watch people bring their babies in here and you’ve watched them grow up into adults.”

The unpretentious setting was always a reliable place to get a good meal in a throwback environment. But there was more to be gained for regular customers. It became a place where community was created and lives were shared.

“This place kept me sane during some difficult times of life,” Susan said. “People here have always cared for each other. What were once customers have now become family. I always said this was like “Cheers” without the alcohol. Our customers became a community that reminds us when times were simpler.”

The unassuming exterior belied the real story of what was happening inside. While the Long Horn didn’t feature the panache of some of the other nearby eateries, this was a place where locals of all walks of life could be treated equally.

“The misconception is that a place like this doesn’t draw the power brokers,” Susan said. “They don’t think anybody would come in here that could invest in their properties or own most of the stock in a bank. But those people come here. We don’t care who they are. They’re people just like anyone else, and they come here because they know it’s a safe haven from the outside world.”

The walls behind the counter are covered with artwork from children of regular patrons, as visits to the Long Horn continue to trickle down from one generation to the next.

“People would bring their children in here to give us pages from their coloring books,” Charlie said. “We started a gallery of those we put up on the wall. Kids now bring their parents back in here so they can color and continue that tradition.”

Generations of customers have continued to make a pilgrimage to the Long Horn a fixture on return trips to Chattanooga. They want to recapture some of the innocence of their past and enjoy the simplicity of a good meal among friends.

“We have our ‘Liar’s Club’ that meets every Friday,” long-time employee Shirl Posey said. “Charlie calls it the ‘North Shore Brain Trust’.”

“We all tell fish stories, so they’re mostly true. But the fish keep getting bigger each time a story is told,” Charlie said.

Susan doesn’t want to think about what life will look like beyond next week’s closing. But her faith leads her to believe that time will eventually heal the sorrow she’s currently experiencing.

“I had hoped to keep it and us be able to sell it to someone who loved it as much as we have, but that’s not going to happen now,” Susan said. “I’m not ready to retire now because I love working and being around people. I hope I can find someplace to continue pursuing my passion because I’m truly going to miss this place.”

As the Danners count down the days until they lock the doors for the final time next Friday, there will a wide range of memories and emotions experienced.

“I feel like I lost a family member,” Charlie said. “It’s a 24-7 grind to keep this place afloat, but I have met so many great people here. We’ve done everything we could to remain open, but it’s beyond our control.”

When the Long Horn is gone, with it disappears another chapter of our city’s link to our past. It’s a another casualty of so-called progress that cannot be replaced no matter what type of business emerges on that piece of real estate.

No doubt, it will require one last visit to the Long Horn as a fitting tribute to the 65 years it has served its patrons well. It will also provide a final chance to look Charlie and Susan Danner in the eye to thank them for their tireless attempt to keep the dream alive for as long as they could.

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Paul Payne can be reached at paulpayne6249@gmail.com


Paul Payne
Paul Payne photo by
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