I think this has been home to several restaurants over the years.
Tag Archives: South Georgia Restaurants
Like many other photographers and travelers on US 301, I’ve shot the iconic Paradise Restaurant sign numerous times over the years. It’s a landmark that most who have ever driven past remember. By researching postcards of the restaurant I’ve discovered that a smaller sign preceded this one and was still in use until at least the early 1960s. I’m not sure when this sign was placed, but my guess would be sometime in the 1960s. A comment from Jerry Levy on a previous post about the sign indicates that the restaurant was open as late as 1982.
I recently got a message from Melissa Birmingham stating that the sign would be removed and relocated to the business that she and her husband Greg operate across the highway, the Cooperville Caboose restaurant. I was sad to hear that it would be removed but less so after talking to Melissa. She invited me to come up and document the removal of the sign.
Dollar General bought the property on the corner that includes the historic sign and their plans were to scrap it. Melissa and Greg knew that the loss of the sign would be a blow to the community and saving it isn’t a publicity stunt. It’s where preservation and community involvement come together for good results. The Sylvania Telephone (newspaper) and Screven County Chamber of Commerce were present to witness the event.
Greg made getting the sign across US 301 look easy.
It made its way through the trees behind the post office.
Melissa & Greg took a break and posed for a photo.
One of my favorite shots was seeing it pass through the parking lot of Fuel America.
This is where it will rest until it’s refurbished and raised at the Birmingham’s business, Cooperville Caboose.
The sign is hollow and rusty so lowering it was a bit tricky.
With help from volunteers and well-wishers, the move was successful.
The spinning star that tops the sign actually turns.
It looks like the volunteers enjoyed the day, as did I. Melissa sent me packing with great barbecue and slaw. Please stop by and say hello the next time you’re passing through. Check out their Facebook page for hours, menus, and progress on the sign’s restoration. https://www.facebook.com/Cooperville-Caboose-871869876254111/?fref=ts
Paradise Restaurant & Sign, 2012
Built to lure travelers off busy US Highway 82 (likely in the 1940s), Toby Powell’s Motel & Grill is still relatively intact. The eclectic architecture of the office/restaurant at first appears to be a crumbling facade, but it was built that way! For a time after its original use was supplanted, it served as a grocery store and Virginia’s Beauty Lounge.
Below is a contemporary postcard view.
Upon learning that Johnnie’s Drive In would soon be a memory, I immediately felt the need to take my camera and record some of the energy that makes this place so special. It’s important to many people for many reasons. It’s an anchor of my memory, where I’ve spent many evenings with dear friends who worked and socialized here, and where I’ve always felt at home. But it represents more than sentiment. It’s among the last generation of roadside diners and beer joints that rose to popularity during World War II where kids hung out beside juke boxes and car hops came to you and took your order. The car hops at Johnnie’s were gone by the late 1990s but I remember them well. Many thanks to Phillip Joe Luke for sharing this wonderful history. His words are in italics.
Johnnie Rochester Wise and Ollie Mae Roberts Luke Wise (Archival Images Courtesy of Phillip Joe Luke, unless otherwise noted). Johnnie and his family moved to Fitzgerald from Columbus in late 1930s.
The first family restaurant was in the 800 block of North Grant Street and it was called The Silver Moon. (It was opened by Johnnie’s father, John Franklin Wise). About 1943 or so they opened Johnnie’s Drive In. The Johnnie scrambled hamburger (better known as the Johnnie Burger) was his creation. The scrambled dog idea came from the Dinglewood Pharmacy in his native home of Columbus (it has a slightly different recipe).
Silver Moon business card from my collection.
On the same lot of Johnnie’s Drive In was the old motel and the Princess Club. The Princess Club burned down many years ago and the remains of the motel are still there.
The name of the motel has been long forgotten.
Here’s an image of Johnnie’s, in the early 1950s.
Beer was served, along with fried shrimp and fried oysters on the short order menu. The Scramble (not Scrambled, as many call it today) Dog and the Dog Cicle were popular items from the start, but the Dog Cicle, akin to a corn dog, has been gone for many years.
Johnnie died in 1969 and my grandmother carried on the tradition for many years. All of my family members dedicated their lives to Johnnie’s until their health failed and could no longer operate the restaurant. Uncle Coot managed during the day, Uncle Carl at night.
Russell (Coot) Luke, Jr., with Johnnie Wise (right).
Carl Luke manning the register at Johnnies.
Uncle Flop scrubbed that exhaust hood every Monday until it sparkled. Aunt Betty worked there off and on through the years. Even my mother served as a carhop while I was inside in a play pen. Many of you will remember Mary McElroy as one of the finest cooks in the history of Johnnie’s. Mary left us way too soon. We are so thankful that Jimmy and Carolyn Puckett came along to manage the restaurant in the mid 1980s. Restaurant management is not an easy task and Carolyn succeeded and made it look easy. Thank you so much. And thanks to all of the faithful customers for 70+ years of business in Fitzgerald. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Carolyn Chambers has managed Johnnie’s for over 25 years and kept this landmark alive. Customers think of her as family and Johnnie’s a home away from home.
Carolyn’s sister, Estelle Stapleton, has been cooking here for years. People love her as much as they love her food.
Ruby Chambers, Carolyn’s sister-in-law, usually knows your order when you walk in the door. Love this lady!
Denise Jordan helping Carolyn. I’ve known Denise all my life, too.
I want to thank Carolyn for giving me access for these photographs. I know she doesn’t really like to have her picture taken so it means a lot. I love all of you at Johnnie’s, past and present.
This unassuming building is home to one of the most successful restaurants in Georgia. Hudson “Hut” Avant opened Dairy Lane as a summer-only business in 1953, after twice being turned down for a Dairy Queen franchise in Sandersville. It became a year-round business in 1957 and hasn’t slowed down a bit ever since. Though it changed hands in 1995, it never lost site of its mission to be a gathering place for its community. It serves the standard fare: hamburgers, hot dogs, shakes, barbeque and fountain drinks, but that’s where it’s similarity to almost anywhere else in the region ends.
To someone who’s never been, it’s almost hard to believe how busy this place can be, especially on weekends. A number of people have commented that it’s a must-stop for people traveling through Sandersville en route to Georgia games from all over South Georgia, and there’s a good bit of football memorabilia displayed throughout the restaurant. Seeing the lines at the counter when I walked in the door, with people sitting on benches waiting for their orders, I almost thought I was in the Varsity.
If you’re in Sandersville, you really don’t want to miss the Dairy Lane. It is what it is and in its lack of pretension and deference to another time, that’s enough to make it legendary.
This is a great little restaurant and the employees are some of the friendliest you’ll find. They’re used to people being surprised by Fargo’s isolation and they’re glad to give you advice, directions, and any tips you might need on rambling in the area. It’s worth a stop and if you’re hungry, it’s the only restaurant in town. They also have a nice collection of local relics, as well as some beautiful handmade canes and walking sticks for sale.