If walls could talk, those in the Coffee Break Café on Main Street in Stuart would have plenty to say, as the eatery celebrates 50 years in business.
It also has the distinction of being the longest-running restaurant in the county’s history, according to its owner, Denny Alley, who decided to rent the restaurant space in 1973.
“I was walking from The Enterprise to the Post Office one day and noticed it was empty. I stopped at Appalachian Power Company, it was next door here, and asked who owned the building,” Alley said.
He then called the owner and inquired about renting part of the building.
“’What color do you want it,’ was the first thing he said,” Alley said of the previous owner. Then, “’I’ll have it ready next week.’ Then he put down new flooring and had the ceiling painted. Mr. Vaughan,” who ran the nearby drug store had a “1949 soda fountain booth that come out of the drug store” he wanted to sell, Alley said.
Alley, who was the newspaper’s ad representative at the time, chose to buy the booth himself. The booth is still in use.
“I went home and told Momma and Daddy I bought stuff for a café out of the drug store. ‘What are you going to do with it’” they asked. “‘I have no idea,’” Alley replied.
The grand opening was held in November 1973. Diners could get an entire meal for 0.50 cents, Alley said. Meals included the choice of a hot dog, barbeque, or chicken salad sandwich and a coke.
When Alley walked up the street from his office in the newspaper to see how his mother and staff were doing at the restaurant, he said customers were lined down the street, three people wide.
“I said, ‘has there been a wreck, or somebody got killed or something,’” Alley asked. “‘No, we’re waiting to get in the Coffee Break’ somebody said. I’m like oh” goodness. “I came up here, there was no air conditioning, nothing. I came up here and Mom and Mable’s (Alley’s sister’s) faces were as red as blood.”
Although he came up with the name “Coffee Break,” Alley doesn’t know where it came from.
Because there originally wasn’t a grill, morning fare was ham biscuits bought from a vendor, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and coffee, he said.
“So, we said people could just take a break, go to the Coffee Break, get them some doughnuts or a biscuit,” he said, adding it was years before a grill was bought.
The people of Patrick County have been Alley’s favorite part of owning the Coffee Break.
“The people I used to know, now I’m feeding their grandkids, three generations. So, if I want to know who somebody is, tell me who your grandpa or grandma was,” he said, chuckling.
Since opening, Alley has easily served several thousand customers.
“Some days… there were so many people in here at 10 a.m. you could hardly walk in the door. And” some days “at 10 a.m. you could unload a bus,” he said.
Over the years, Alley has also had numerous funny experiences, but none that “could be put in the paper.”
Since its opening, the menu has drastically changed. The Coffee Break now offers several breakfast items available all day, including a variety of pancakes, eggs cooked your way, and breakfast platters. Its lunch menu has also expanded to include burgers, salads, and several side items.
Alley began live musical performances in 1990. That year, his son who loves music, was young and wanted to play.
“Anyway, Bluegrass had hit a hard time, and I knew a lot of the boys that didn’t have no jobs and had nowhere to go to play music,” Alley said. “So, I told a bunch of them, ‘I’ll tell you what if you want to play on Saturday nights, I’ll feed all of you and you can come here and hang out’. That’s how we got started.”
The next thing he knew, there was no room to stand.
“You couldn’t breathe because there were so many people jammed in here. I said, ‘Well, go to do something,’” he said.
Regena Handy, who was the county administrator at that time, told Alley she would help get him money together to move the musical portion to the Rotary Field area. “That’s where we’ve been ever since,” Alley said.
When he started the restaurant, Alley said there were numerous plants operating in Patrick County.
“I had a girl that would just come by here and carry boxes of hotdogs every day to the factories and run deliveries to the plants. A lot of times mom liked to make hotdogs, a lot of times she would make 200 to 300 every morning to be delivered to the factories,” he said.
Workers had an hour-long lunch break – plenty of time for them to visit the restaurant, get their food, and sit down to eat and talk. Now, Alley said most employees don’t have the time to come to the eatery for their lunches.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Alley is holding a drawing for the chance to win a $50 bill. With each purchase, a customer can enter their name into a box for the drawing, which will be held in December.
The Coffee Break is open Monday-Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is open on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.