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A sign indicates the Mt. Vernon Restaurant on Broad Street is open regular hours, but the doors were locked at lunchtime Wednesday, Dec. 27, and the business has permanently closed, according to its owners.

What's in a name?

The name for the restaurant came from the plantation home of George Washington of Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Lurone Jennings said Wednesday that he usually ate two to three times a week at the Mt. Vernon Restaurant, calling the Chattanooga fixture "my second office."

"It was probably my favorite restaurant," said Jennings, adding that he had a lot of meetings over meals at the Broad Street eatery that has closed its doors for the final time after 63 years.

Owners Jeff and Cindy Messinger said that this past Saturday was the last day for the restaurant located at the foot of Lookout Mountain.

Jeff Messinger, 69, said the restaurant, which generated a loyal clientele over the years, closed due to reasons related to his health.

His wife, whose grandparents Gus and Myrtle Tombras started the eatery, said "there's a season for everything."

"Our season is different now," she said. "We'll see what the future holds."

Sarah McCune, the eatery's social media manager, said the 20 workers at the restaurant were informed Wednesday morning about the decision to not reopen after Christmas.

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In this 2010 staff file photo, Cathy Horton, center, clears away dirty dishes from the table of George Crews, left, Grady Williams, right, and Charles Millsaps, unseen, at Mt. Vernon Restaurant.

She said she had worked there about a year, having come from a job at an attorney's office. McCune said she liked making people happy and smile at the restaurant, rather than working on divorces at the lawyer's office.

Tim Hennen, another longtime Chattanooga restaurateur and a friend of the Messingers, said he's sorry to see the Mt. Vernon go away. Hennen said he'd been involved in Yesterday's restaurant downtown for about 25 years before it closed.

"It's a tough loss. Jeff and Cindy — they put in their years," he said. "They did a great job."

Cindy Messinger said that they had some customers who would eat at the restaurant every day. She credited such loyalty to "good food and good service, and a blessing from above. That was the most important one."

The restaurant owner said the downtown Chattanooga area is changing. When they started in the business, there were only a few eateries downtown and no chain restaurants, she said.

Messinger said the South Broad area is also undergoing change, with new housing going up and more planned as well as a potential Chattanooga Lookouts baseball park eyed on former Wheland Foundry property nearby.

"It's exciting to see the development," she said.

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The doors of Mt. Vernon Restaurant on Broad Street were locked at lunchtime Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. The business has permanently closed, according to its owners.

The name for the restaurant came from the plantation home of George Washington of Mount Vernon in Virginia, McCune said. Cindy Messinger's grandfather was a Greek immigrant and fascinated by the American dream, she said.

He and his wife opened their first eatery in 1905. The creation of the Mt. Vernon Restaurant was the merger of two concepts by the grandfather — a more upscale eatery called The Manhattan and another that was farm-to-table, McCune said.

Gail Ramsey, who was planning to order from the restaurant on Wednesday, said it had "great food."

"I liked the home-made cooking and the service," she said. "They're very courteous."

Jennings, head of the city's Department of Youth and Family Development, also cited the food, such as the chicken and the amaretto pie.

"It's a great loss to the city," he said, adding that he met "such great people here."

"Having them permanently close ... saddens my spirit," he said. "It will be hard to do — to find a lunch spot as good as this one."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

This story was updated Dec. 27, 2017, at 11:18 p.m. with more information.

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