Sweetwater Inn B-B-Que has had quite a few owners but managed to stay in the same family during its 67-year history; the original owner of Martin’s Restaurant sold to three new owners in the early 1980s, but they have changed very little about the menu; and the owners of Carol’s Cafe have carried over several dishes from the original owner for the last 11 years.
Sweetwater Inn B-B-Que
The TV show “Cheers” may have popularized the song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” but customers at this Austell restaurant and bar believe their place really brings that home.
Sweetwater Inn B-B-Que off Veterans Memorial Highway in south Cobb was opened by Lois and Curt Mitchell in 1946.
The front portion of the restaurant, known fondly by old timers as “The Round House,” is where they served customers. They lived and raised their family in the back.
The restaurant has since expanded by about three times its original size to an open-eating area with a large, heavily used fireplace and a Texas Hold’em and party room in the back.
When the weather’s nice, there’s a spacious deck and a horseshoe pit for weekend tournaments.
Patrons also are allowed to smoke inside, so it’s only open to those 18 years and older by state law.
The restaurant has changed hands several times, but all along it has stayed in the family and that’s how 82-year-old Jay Townsend came to own it after buying it from a nephew.
“I mainly bought it because family didn’t want to see it close,” he said.
Townsend bought Sweetwater in 1990 after running several restaurants of his own in California.
And while he isn’t running the kitchen any longer like he once did, he still stops by every day to check the books and visit with customers.
“I tell people it’s the huggingest bar in the world,” Townsend said. “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people here.”
The menu has pretty much remained the same as well with only a few additions, including Buckhead beef steaks and what Townsend describes as “meaty” chicken wings.
“They are the largest size you can get,” he said. “And I came up with the original sauce served on them.”
Long-time customer Gale Ray said the wings are one of her favorites.
She’s been coming regularly to the restaurant since 1982 and even more often in recent years to play trivia with a group of about 15-20 people each Wednesday.
“It’s just a lot of fun, and I’ve made great friends,” she said.
Another long-time customer is Mary Relford, who lives about 10 minutes from the restaurant.
She was first introduced to it by Townsend and hired on as a server after her restaurant closed down.
She no longer serves food at Sweetwater but drops by daily to have a few drinks and catch up with friends.
“It’s an everybody-knows-everybody’s-name kind of place,” she said. “It’s just such a good bunch of people.”
Jo and Jim Railey are also regulars at Sweetwater Inn.
“It’s like our own little country club crew,” Jim Railey said with a big smile. “And pretty much our social event for the week.”
They, too, play trivia on Wednesdays.
For many customers at pretty much every Martin’s Restaurant location, the 51-year-old eatery has become quite the social event.
Shirley Nelson and her husband Harry have daily met with a group of men and women at the Marietta location off Powder Springs Street for the last 10 years.
They all poke fun at each other, shoot the bull and talk about who among them is the oldest.
“The company is what keeps us coming back every week,” Shirley Nelson said.
Their group of friends begins rolling in around 8:30 a.m. each day and usually hangs out until 11 a.m. or noon.
Bobby Roebuck is another from their group who drops in each morning before heading to work at his company, Roebuck Used Oil Service.
A taste of home cooking is what keeps him coming back, along with the entertainment.
“My mom made biscuits every day of her life, so I’m old school in that I like to have one every day still,” he said.
She is one of many he regularly takes breakfast to from the restaurant.
Jessica Bjorklund has brought family friend Mary Hartley to that same location twice a week ever since her husband died a little over a year ago.
“This was our second home,” Hartley said about her and her late husband. “They treat you like family, all the people that come in here.”
It was their morning breakfast joint for nearly 20 years.
Her favorite thing to eat is Martin’s sausage biscuit, and Bjorklund usually sticks with grits over a sausage patty.
“I haven’t branched out that much,” Bjorklund said.
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy the food and company of Hartley and the other regulars.
“We will stay till around 10 or 10:30 a.m.,” she said. “We’ll get in here and chitchat with everyone around us.”
Martin’s Restaurant, originally named Martin’s The Burger Boy, opened in July 1962 as a drive through. The first location, which still serves food, is at 2185 Veterans Memorial Highway in Austell.
“At that time, we had car hops on roller skates bringing our freshly made assorted biscuits to our customers’ vehicles,” said co-owner Milan Savic.
Ray Martin started the restaurant and sold it in the early 1980s to David Belke and Jerry Thompson, who later added Savic to the ownership.
They serve breakfast and lunch seven days a week, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. and now have 15 locations in seven different counties. Six are in Cobb.
“Our story from our inception to selecting criteria and opening a new restaurant today, still remains consistent: to provide our fresh, homemade biscuits every day to our community of customers in a friendly environment,” he said.
The restaurant’s motto and philosophy is “Fresh Taste Best.”
Eggs are cracked fresh daily, about 3 million a year, chicken is hand-filleted and the batter is homemade, as well as milkshakes.
“We believe that is why our customers come back on a consistent daily basis,” Savic said. “It sounds easy, but there is a lot of hard work and a lot of good, hardworking employees that make this happen every day, 363 days a year, 10 hours a day.”
This Bells Ferry Road cafe has been a staple breakfast and lunch diner in the north Marietta community since 1969.
Carol’s Cafe at the corner of Bells Ferry Road and Barrett Parkway was originally opened in 1969 as a stand-alone restaurant and taken over by Carol Ray in 1972.
Ray got sick about 11 years ago and sold the restaurant to Ray Hassannouri. But very little, if anything, has changed about the 44-year-old eatery.
“It’s more or less a landmark, and everybody knows about it,” Hassannouri said. “It was one of the first restaurants in the area.”
The cafe is only about 1,000 square feet and seats about 70 customers at the most. The walls are adorned with massive dry-erase boards sporting the day’s specials, additions and desserts. These delicacies are made in what could be one of the smallest kitchens ever.
“It’s the original way it’s been done and there is no reason to try and change anything,” Hassannouri said.
They serve mainly breakfast, including omelets and skillets, but also offer a variety of meat and lunch plates or sandwiches like a Philly Cheese Steak, fish or shrimp dishes and catfish.
The doors are open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday 6 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Because Hassannouri has clung tightly to the tradition, many of the same customers found appreciation in that and come several days a week if not every day.
“We have about 60 or 70 who come every day,” he said.
Carol Miller is one of those who has been coming to the restaurant pretty much every day since it first opened.
She eats breakfast and/or lunch at Carol’s Cafe with her daughter and son-in-law Terrell and Jeannine Hartman.
“I like the family atmosphere,” she said. “And we’ll try to cheer up anyone who may come in grumpy.”
Their table, right beside the front counter, has become a rotating visitation area for other customers.
People will sit in the fourth seat, play catch up with the three and then roll out heading to work or get on with their daily chores.
Miller and the Hartmans will usually head out by lunch.
Another daily customer is Jack Gaskin. He’s been going to Carol’s for nearly 28 years.
“Carol set the trend for good food and fun,” he said. “It’s also kind of like a ‘Happy Days’ for the older people.”
The semi-retired developer said the fellowship keeps him coming back.
“It just couldn’t get no better than that!” he said.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on Cobb County’s oldest restaurants. The series kicked off last Sunday, and the final installment will be featured one week from today.