Looking Back in Time: The Oldest Restaurant in Macon?

An elderly man came into Lemongrass a couple of years ago and stated “My first job was at this location 80 years ago I bused tables at the Wisteria Café.” Well, that got us thinkingjust how long has there been a restaurant at this little spot on Cherry Street? Andcould it be the oldest restaurant space in town?

The plaque in front of Jeneane’s downtown says 1892continuously operated as a restaurant for 123 years. One problem with that, owner Abby’s own waitresses remember when their husbands remodeled the space from an office building into a restaurant in the 1960s! So, maybe the National Historic Register missed their mark on that one.

Of course, Nu-Way had a hot dog stand on Cotton in 1914, but people seem unsure when it moved into the building that tragically burned this year. One reason we were curious is that the walk-in refrigerator has an installation tag that predated Nu-Wayit was installed (somewhere) in 1912.

The unofficial lineage of the Cherry Street space, provided by a former restaurant owner, goes like this: Wisteria Café, Smitty’s, Krystal, Philly South, Boulevard Bistro, Bert’s and Lemongrass. Almost everyone over 45 remembers it being a Krystal, the drive-thru was in the alley and now houses Lemongrass’s wine racks!

And we still get people who fondly remember Bert’s Bistro and their 6 wine spectator awards. Owner Allan Bass would patrol the dining area with 3 or 4 open wine bottles imploring people to try different varietals and expand their knowledge of the noble grape. On a cool note, a lot of the bottles in that aforementioned wine rack are distributed by Mr. Bass who has gone on to become a Master Sommelier.

Another former occupant is very familiar to Maconites. J. A. Smith, Jr., "Smitty", a Macon, Georgia restaurateur of renown, opened the first S&S Cafeteria in Columbus, Georgia in 1936. He also opened the first S & S in Macon directly across from his little diner on Cherry called Smitty’s.

But back to the task at handwhen did the first restaurant occupy our space? We knew the building that encompasses Lemongrass became the Ritz Theater around 1925, but why would they not of absorbed the entire structure? There must have been an existing business in our location that predated the theater renovation.

After receiving a lot of help on where to look from our Historical Society we searched the online records of Sanborn Fire Insurance. Although the maps stopped in 1924, one thing was clear the building was a warehouse and a series of office buildings that year. To double check, we hit the Macon street indexes in the Genealogy section of the Washington Library. Sure enough, the Ritz Theater makes its first appearance in 1927 and our tiny spot became the Wisteria Café in 1931.

We were a little bummed that it wasn’t 1912, but we can now say with confidence that your Thai Massaman Curry was 85 years in the making!