A new approach to old-fashioned service
By Mike Stedham
Stepping into the Old Town Stock House restaurant in downtown Guntersville is like stepping back in time – in a good way.
It’s stepping back to the days when being pampered was an integral part of eating at a nice local restaurant. The days when the staff knew your name, your likes and your dislikes.
“I think what sets us apart is our level of service all around, from the way the chefs handle things in the kitchen to the way our servers and bartenders handle things out front,” says Crystal McKone, chef and owner. “It’s kind of like going back in time to that nostalgic era when people really cared about one another, and providing a memorable experience for everyone.”
The experience begins, appropriately enough, by finding Old Town Street, just a half block west of the city’s main southbound thoroughfare. Old Town Stock House is on the second floor of a building built in 1901 as a drugstore, and the main entrance to the restaurant is actually at the back of the building through a covered patio.
Inside the dining area, exposed brick walls and hardwood floors enhance the feeling of stepping back into a more relaxed time. The space was used as the stock area for the drugstore, which contributed to the name of the restaurant.
“Plus, we make our own beef stock and veal stock and chicken stock in-house,” says McKone. “So the name has kind of a double meaning.”
A native of Marshall County, McKone was born in neighboring Albertville and grew up in communities across Alabama and Mississippi. Her family has a lake house in Guntersville, and she kept returning to the area throughout the years.
After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in advertising, McKone moved to New York City to work for a company that specialized in renting shared office space. She loved the bustle of the big city but knew she would be happier with a different career.
“I had always enjoyed cooking, and I’ve always been more of the creative type, and although I was doing well at my job, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled.”
She started working as a server and bartender in New York restaurants and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute (now called The International Culinary Center). After graduating, her first kitchen job was at Craft in Atlanta working for celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who gained fame as a judge on TV’s “Top Chef.”
On visits to her father, who still lives in Guntersville, she would often eat at K.C.’s Coyote Café, the original name of the restaurant that moved into the old drugstore building after it was renovated in the 1990s.
“I always loved the building then, and it’s funny because I had no idea I would ever own a restaurant, and it’s funny that I would end up here in a building I already loved so much.”
An expansion of clientele
She bought the business seven years ago and changed its menu from primarily steak and seafood dishes to what she describes as Southern American cuisine. The constantly changing menu now features seasonal specials that take advantage of as much locally grown produce as she can find.
The expansion of the menu led to an expansion of the clientele, bringing in new customers from Huntsville, Birmingham, Cullman, Gadsden, and other parts of central and north Alabama.
The pandemic hit Old Town Stock House especially hard, since its emphasis on personal service wasn’t a good fit with preparing mostly carry-out orders. Luckily, the patio out back was already in use, and once it was covered it provided an outdoor option for diners to gather and enjoy the food.
As the world of indoor dining has opened back up, McKone says her restaurant has bounced back. She credits part of the resurgence on the increasing popularity of Guntersville as a recreation and retail center.
“People are coming here for short getaways,” she says. “It has that small-town feel, and it’s a nice escape.”
To keep expanding her clientele, McKone says her restaurant continues to evolve by keeping the menu fresh and exciting. They have begun offering lunch on weekdays, and they’ve added a Burger Night special each Tuesday.
“We prepare 24 hamburgers that night, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.” Reservations, which are always a good idea, are highly recommended on Burger Night.
Although McKone has a degree in advertising and is adept at using Facebook and Twitter, she says she prefers to do her marketing the old-fashioned way as well.
“We really rely heavily on word of mouth. If people like their experience, they will tell their friends,” she says. “I think sometimes people get way too focused on social media, and they’re not taking care of the guests that are in the restaurant.”