Hundreds flock to Bea's Restaurant for $1 meals

Hundreds flock to Bea's Restaurant for $1 meals

May 21st, 2010 by Anne Braly in News

When Bea's Restaurant opened on Dodds Avenue 60 years ago this month the motto was: "Get your fill for a dollar bill."

On Thursday, hundreds of hungry customers turned out to do just that.

Although the usual price for Bea's all-you-can-eat dinners served Lazy Susan-style is $9.99, the one-day-only price for the anniversary feast was $1.

A half hour before opening a line wrapped around the restaurant, up East 45th Street and past 12th Avenue. At spots it was four-to-five-people wide.

Then, as the doors swung opened, Sharon Crowe, a two-year veteran server at Bea's, said calmly, "Welcome to history, y'all." The customers entered one by one; and moments later the Lazy Susans began whirling.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Server Jamie Ellis, center, pours tea for customers Phyllis Bell, Anthony Harshaw, Gary Johnson and Justin Wood, from left, in Bea's Restaurant Thursday. The restaurant offered meals for a dollar to celebrate the restaurant's 60th anniversary celebration.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

Raymond Kinsey of Rossville was the first in line. Mr. Kinsey said he arrived at Bea's at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, slept in his car and took his place at the front of the line early Thursday morning. He's been eating at Bea's for 20 years, he said.

"It's tradition," he said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"It is history being made," said Jack Arnold, who came with his wife, Nancy, from Bristol, Tenn.

Newly married Margrett Johnson of Graysville, Ga., said she had never eaten at Bea's before Wednesday, but she was prepared to stand in line as long as it took.

"My mother-in-law's been coming for 50 years," she said.

Bill and Beatrice Steele opened Bea's in 1950. After the couple's retirement in 1971, their daughter and son-in-law, Bernice and H.L. Bradshaw, ran the restaurant. In turn, they handed off management in 1991 to their sons, Doug and Mike Bradshaw.

It's now a fourth-generation business operated by the Bradshaw brothers and Dusty Bradshaw, Doug Bradshaw's son, and Stacey and Bryan Bradshaw, Mike Bradshaw's sons.

The eatery started out as a one-room operation. There have been additions through the decades, but the location remained unchanged.

The restaurant's signature Lazy Susans remain on every table. The idea started when Beatrice Steele realized the need for a way to serve area factory workers a 30-minute lunch.

The idea for Thursday's $1 meal was "all about giving back" to those who have been so loyal through the years, Stacey Bradshaw said.

On Thursday Bea's Restaurant prepared:

* 1,500 pounds of fried chicken

* 1,500 pounds of barbecue

* 150 pounds of dry pinto beans

* 300 pounds of potatoes

* 350 gallons of peach cobbler

"We don't plan to make any money off it," he said.

"This is the finest way we can pay tribute to our grandparents," said Doug Bradshaw.

Traffic was at a standstill on Dodds Avenue near the restaurant off and on throughout the day. Police were on hand to ease the traffic flow. Minutes before ushering in Mr. Kinsey and the hundreds who followed, owners and staff were amazingly calm.

"We'll just feed them one at a time," Doug Bradshaw said.

Among the customers Thursday was a couple who flew in from Fort Collins, Colo., had lunch and flew back home, he said.

The restaurant seats 219, and Doug Bradshaw said he expected to be "at maximum capacity all day long."

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