Restaurant serves up food and friendship NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE

February 19, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Down-home Southern cooking, friendship, and meaningful conversation have drawn Walter Cannady to the Log Cabin Restaurant for nearly 30 years.

"It's friendly, and the food's good too," said Mr. Cannady, who has eaten at the Jessup restaurant since 1965. "You know [the owners] and you feel comfortable."

Located next to the Relax Inn on Route 1, the 48-year-old Log Cabin is believed to be Howard County's oldest black-owned restaurant. Melvin and Elizabeth Garrett have owned the restaurant since 1955 when they and a partner bought it at auction.

In 1958, the couple bought out their partner and began building a loyal following of customers without benefit of advertising or a business phone.

"We have never advertised in the 30-something years we've been here," said Mrs. Garrett, a spry woman of 78 who helps prepare such meals as fried fish and smothered chicken. "It's just word of mouth."

Many of the restaurant's customers are truck drivers, who tell one another about the Log Cabin in their travels.

"They talk about this place in California, Florida and Chicago," Mrs. Garrett said. "We have customers from all walks of life. We have truck drivers, we have teachers, lawyers, Westinghouse employees and NSA workers."

What sets the Log Cabin apart from other restaurants, say the Garretts and their customers, is the warmth and friendship served with meals.

"I know the owners," said Dave Howard, an Elkridge truck driver who grew up with the Garretts' son, Samuel. "I don't know a single owner of McDonald's. But I know these people."

"It's like a family-type situation," said Mr. Cannady, who works at the Waxter Children's Center in Laurel. "I don't have to worry about somebody pushing me out the door while I'm drinking coffee."

And if he isn't in his customary seat by the end of the day, Mr. Cannady said, the Garretts will check on him.

"If I don't show up, I'll get a call," Mr. Cannady said.

Connie Mae Jones, who has worked as a waitress at the Log Cabin for the past 23 years, said she has never considered working elsewhere.

"I love it, and my customers love me," said Ms. Jones as she hustled around the kitchen, dishing up thick wedges of apple cobbler to go and adding up bills. "My customers make me stay here."

Mrs. Garrett, affectionately called "Mrs. G" by her customers, says the restaurant is "a home away from home" for customers.

Mr. Garrett, 81, said his home-cooked meals keep customers coming back for more.

"It's the good food," said Mr. Garrett, who learned the restaurant trade by working in Pullman dining cars and hotels and restaurants in Alabama and Washington. "It's what we serve and that's what we specialize in. It's known coast to coast."

The menu includes scrapple and eggs, barbecue ribs and smothered pork chops. Dinner specials are offered every day, and cobblers are available on Fridays. Prices are moderate, from $1 for a hot dog to $8.75 for chitterlings.

Since he suffered a heart attack in 1991, Mr. Garrett does less work in the kitchen.

"Now I get up at 7 in the morning," Mr. Garrett said. "I used to get up at 4. I used to do all of it, preparing breakfast and lunch. Now my son helps me out. It's a big difference."

Mrs. Garrett, who once vowed to quit if she wasn't able to work with her husband, now works more often with her son.

"It's funny, you don't know what you can do until you're faced with it," she said, noting that she has found the experience to be "quite enjoyable."

After Mr. Garrett bought the restaurant, he changed its name from Brookside to Log Cabin because the building was originally constructed of logs.

"The dining room had logs all around it," said Mr. Garrett, who preserved a portion of the building's original facade.

The restaurant has weathered good and bad times, outliving a period of time when black-owned businesses, such as Boxells, McClains, and Ernie's, were common along Route 1.

"Nothing comes easy," Mr. Garrett said. "You can make it if you put your mind to it."

"That's a blessing from the Lord," Mrs. Garrett said. "Any success that we've had is because of him. We've always been able to spring back from whatever."

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