Do you appreciate the familiarity of a waitress who knows your name and remembers how you like your sandwich?
Or how about a simple hotdog joint that’s been around for 100 years with a trademark hot sauce that packs a punch?
In Cobb County, these are some of the places that keep people coming back week after week, year after year, until they pass on and then their children find themselves drawn to the same place. They become the new “regulars.”
The county has at least 10 restaurants that can boast about being around since the 1960s or earlier. That’s back when “eating out” was a rare treat and restaurateurs faced little or no competition from large national chains. This select group of venerable establishments includes Old South Bar-B-Q and Howard’s Restaurant in Smyrna and Brandi’s World Famous Hotdogs in Marietta.
The secrets of their success seem to be as much in the way they treat their customers as it is in the way they prepare their food.
Old South Bar-B-Q
The first word in this restaurant’s name is the operative one — old. It’s been the pride of the Llewallyn family for 45 years.
“It was always a dream of my parents to have a restaurant,” said Bruce Llewallyn, who was 10 years old when his parents, the late Jim and Helen Llewallyn, opened Old South Bar-B-Q in Smyrna in 1968.
He shares ownership of the family business with his siblings, Brenda Wise and Rex, Joy and Danny Llewallyn.
“My mother was an extremely good cook,” Llewallyn said. “People always told her, ‘If y’all don’t open a restaurant, you’re crazy!’”
The restaurant, located in what appears to be an old house off South Burbank Circle, resembles a log cabin.
It’s quite small and doesn’t seat more than about 50 customers at a time. The aromas emanating from the kitchen linger throughout the little restaurant.
Jim Llewallyn did all the construction work himself on the home, building the booths and tables that are still used today.
The recipes are a closely guarded family treasure.
His mother’s barbecue sauce and Brunswick Stew recipes were passed down from generations.
“They are locked up secrets,” he said. “The Brunswick stew is so unbelievably good and I didn’t even try it until I was older because it looked bad and I tried it one day, finally, and now I can’t get enough of it.”
His little sister, Joy, has been a server at Old South full time since 1978.
“I just love Old South, these people and everybody that comes in here,” she said.
Anyone who visits the restaurants, newcomers or regulars, is likely to get a welcoming or farewell hug from Joy Llewallyn.
“I come here just about every day because Joy is one of the nicest people I know,” said 88-year-old Lelan Joiner of Marietta.
Another regular is Deloris Perry of Smyrna.
She is 84 years old and has been eating at Old South since 1959.
“I enjoy seeing people I know and socializing and being friendly,” she said. “It’s what keeps me going.”
Her favorite dish is the pulled pork barbecue sandwich.
“They have the best barbecue pork sandwich I ever ate,” she said. “I always get it with baked beans and a sweet tea with lemon.”
Perry is in remission after battling leukemia, but she’s one tough cookie and said the secret to a long life involves food, so that’s why she eats out at least once a day.
“Eat what you want, anything you want, but in moderation. Don’t listen to Dr. Oz!” she said.
The co-workers, customers and good food are what has kept one waitress at Howard’s Deli in Smyrna there for 40-plus years.
Charlotte Smith, 67, has been a server for 43 of the restaurant’s 49 years in business. It opened in 1964.
“I always said that if I ever got a job I liked, I’d stick with it, so I have,” she said.
She said the restaurant’s original owner, the late Howard Martin, who died in 1984, was an inspiration.
“He was just a really good person to work for,” she said. “Mr. Howard made sure I had money for rent and to take care of my boys. I still tear up just thinking about it.”
Martin left the restaurant to his son, Bobby Martin.
“He wanted a place that a family could come in and eat and the adults could have a beer and feel comfortable,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of places like that in Cobb when he first opened up.”
Bobby Martin said his father, who was a retired military veteran, opened the restaurant after serving as a club manager with American Legion Post 160 in Smyrna for 18 years.
“When he first started, he had a deli case and sold meats and sliced cheeses, but back in those days, every grocery store didn’t sell that kind of stuff,” he said. “He did away with the sandwich case when we moved.”
The first location was off Pat Mell Road. Howard Martin expanded the restaurant in 1978, and Bobby Martin eventually moved it to its current site off Concord Road in an old Western Sizzlin in 1991.
Howard’s is a full-scale restaurant that can hold up to 250 people with a bar now.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of collectibles that grace the walls and ceilings of the restaurant, including old signs, license plate tags from all over the Southeast and old community pictures.
The staff is also good about keeping it decorated for each season of the year. This month, it’s decked out in green shamrocks with rainbows that spill into pots of gold.
They serve a variety of home-cooked meals, bar favorites and deli sandwiches.
“I come here three or four days a week,” said Robbie Daniels of Kennesaw. “I bring a lot of customers here.”
He first started going to Howard’s as a child with his grandparents.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal here, and I’ve tried just about everything on the menu,” he said.
Daniels’ favorites are the wings, Reuben sandwiches, the Open Face Roast Beef Sandwich, Beefeater and City Slicker.
A group known as “Da Boys of Campbell” meets the first Tuesday of every month at Howards. They are a group of former Campbell High School graduates from the 1950s and 1960s.
Members of the county’s Retired Fireman Association also meet there monthly.
“We see a lot of different groups and a lot of the same customers,” said long-time server Cindy McCravy.
She started working at Howard’s seven years ago.
“I love the people and the clientele is just awesome,” she said. “I’ve known a lot of these people for a long time, and I’ve become a familiar face to them.”
Brandi’s World Famous Hotdogs
Nearly 100 years ago, the Marble Inn off Church Street Extension opened as a hotdog and barbecue joint with a gas station.
The gas station is no longer open, but the tradition of mouth-watering hotdogs continues.
In 2002, Brandi Wilson took over what had been Betty’s since 1981 and the Marble Inn before that since 1914.
“All we did was change the name,” Wilson said. “Betty Garrett worked here before she owned the place, and it was apparently really famous back in the old days.”
She said the Marble Inn was a hang-out for high schoolers, fondly referred to as a “car hop,” and they sold hotdogs and barbecue along with running a gas station.
It originally got the name because the building has a marble foundation from the refinery once located nearby.
The building is small, seating no more than 30 people at a time. There’s a bar wrapped around the preparation area so customers can watch their food being made.
Everyone seems to get quite chatty while waiting in line for their lunch.
This type of customer-friendly, intimate restaurant atmosphere is something Wilson said she knew she wanted at 10 years old.
“There were no ifs, ands or buts about it,” she said.
Her father helped her find the place when she was 21, and they purchased the small restaurant, which employs her and three other people.
“We are only open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” she said. “We sell about 500 hotdogs a day, and we’re known for our spicy chili.”
The recipe for the chili was passed down from Garrett, she said.
The limited menu also includes fries, chips, onion rings and apple and peach fried pies.
“I love it, and I like getting to see the same customers every week,” she said.
One of those is Kevin Ryan, who eats at Brandi’s at least once a week.
“It’s pretty addictive,” said the Marietta resident.
His favorite is a chili dog all the way, and he usually gets two to go.
“By the time I get home, I’m wearing half of it on my clothing,” he said Friday afternoon.
Another fan of the local hot dog joint is Beth Barfield.
She drives from Paulding County at least once a month, but her husband finds an excuse to visit more often.
“When we first moved here, everyone said this is the place we just had to go to get a good hotdog,” she said.
Barfield gets her hotdog with chili and slaw and extra hot sauce.
“I like it when your lips are on fire after eating,” she said with a big smile.
Like many of the regulars, she knows to try to arrive at the restaurant by 11 a.m. if she can.
“If you aren’t, you probably aren’t going to get a seat, but it’s no big deal because the staff is really nice and always so helpful while you wait in line or for an open table,” she said.