Worth the drive: Graves Grocery
BLTs and grilled cheese: Come sit a spell at community’s ‘rest stop’
Story and photos by Jennifer Crossley Howard
Upon first arriving at Graves Grocery in Lacey’s Spring, one would be forgiven for assuming Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison are inside frying green tomatoes. Graves Grocery is a dead ringer for Fannie Flagg’s fictional Whistlestop Cafe.
Inside the simple white frame restaurant, Pam Graves is grilling BLTs and grilled cheese for the lunch crowd. A humble wooden sign welcomes you to the “community rest stop,” and inside, past a front porch adorned with tables and knockout roses, is a rough-hewn place to sit a spell that would please granny, her granddaughters and the pickers from TV.
Besides word of mouth, the aroma of coffee, bacon and fudge that greets visitors is Graves Grocery’s best advertising.
The people of Lacey’s Spring, located at the base of Brindley Mountain between Hartselle and Huntsville, had been waiting for a hangout to call their own for a while. The only other restaurant, a Hardee’s, is 5 miles away.
“Oh mercy, it’s such a blessing,” Graves says. “Honestly, I just opened the doors, and they came. Sometimes I feel like Kevin Costner from ‘Field of Dreams.’ If you build it, they will come.”
She serves breakfast and lunch, five days a week. Biscuits and gravy are popular for breakfast and lunch diners favor grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, but Graves takes off-menu requests as well.
“If I’m not swamped, I’ll cook it,” she says.
On a recent summer afternoon, regulars sit across from Graves, who has run this grocery for three years, and her friend, Donna McMahan, who is helping fill orders. Streamers and balloons celebrating Graves’ 50th birthday complement eclectic decor that marries homespun art, a vintage deli display case and shelves of mementoes, including a General Electric TV and dried hydrangeas. The women fried hamburgers behind the counter and chitchatted with customers about kids, school and whether their food is good. It is.
Only real butter
“I only use real butter,” Graves says.
She doesn’t skimp on condiments either. “I always thought it would be good to be noted as the place that puts mayonnaise on both sides of the bread. That’s what we do.”
Graves was a stay at home mother to five kids before working at two Huntsville restaurants and never dreamed she would revive this grocery and sandwich shop. But she longed to be immersed in her community while using her new business skills.
“There was nowhere in this community for anyone to sit and drink a cup of coffee,” she says.
The second time the building became available, Graves got it. This summer, a church group from Huntsville will likely move the kitchen closer to the counter and maybe replace flooring. But this place will never be mistaken for a trendy bistro. Graves Grocery is the restaurant equivalent of a child’s well-worn teddy bear. It serves familiar comfort food, and that’s the way customers like it.
“The food is good, and they do so much for the community,” says Bridgett Howell of Huntsville, who eats lunch here with her children.
Graves expands Graves Grocery’s role beyond food by projecting free movies onto the side of the building and hosting a summer concert series on the lawn. Kids dance and Graves serves a Low Country Boil and pork tenderloin.
“It’s kind old fashioned,” McMahan says. “It takes you back.”
The grocery served a free Thanksgiving dinner last year, and has hosted quilt and pottery classes.
For at least 35 years, the Atkinson family ran a mercantile and sandwich shop in this house, Graves says, and cooked food to go. The 100-year-old building has been moved twice, once to a field down the road.
In the back, Southern gems like Golden Flake potato chips and bottles of Coke fill shelves as do tagged consignment items. Graves sells meat and cheese by the pound from Hillsboro, just like the Atkinsons. Most desserts, including pecan pie and coconut creme pie, are from the Dutch Oven Bakery in Falkville.
The best compliment a diner ever gave Graves was that eating at her restaurant was like eating in her own kitchen.
“If I’ve had a rough day or a hard time with my kids, the minute I step in here everything is fine,” Graves says. “When you serve something with a gracious spirit, it really makes people feel good.”