Half Way Market, a beloved piece of Williamson County history, will close its red front door for good at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Just a slip of a place nudged between Carter’s Creek Pike and Southall Road in southern Franklin, the market is a unique mix of country store, down-home Southern restaurant and social club.
Kellye and Paul King have been behind the counter here cooking breakfast, lunch and supper for 12 years. They bought the business in 2007 from Southall stalwart Ernie Greer, who put it on the map thanks to his wonderful old-fashioned breakfasts, burgers, fried-bologna sandwiches and other bonified Southern dishes, including catfish and frog legs on Friday nights.
“We are devastated to have to close,” Kellye said. “We have put our heart and soul into this business. The second year we had it, the recession hit. We just dug deeper and worked harder. This place is family to us, just as it is to the folks who come here, be it once in a while or every morning for breakfast or lunch.”
Although the Kings and their landlord have been trying to negotiate a new lease since October, a certified letter delivered to them on May 31 came as a shock.
“We were given 30 days to get out,” she said. “We thought we were just in negotiations; we never expected to have to pack up and leave. We had a three-year lease in the beginning. As time passed, we would get a one-year agreement and then we were month to month.”
According to Rick Warwick, a county historian, this iconic little place opened as a blacksmith shop in 1906.
“It operated as a grocery store in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “It’s a fixture.”
Lesa Perry, who has helped her mother, Ann Martin, who owns the land and the building, in negotiating the lease, says it’s time for the building to take a rest.
“It’s tired,” she said. “We want it to be a safe place for the community to come. Underneath the siding, it’s just old wood slats. My brother would fix it up, but he’s ill with Parkinson’s disease. We are very proud of the business Paul and Kellye have built, but the building needs work.”
Perry says the property has been in her family for generations.
“My grandparents lived in the back of the store. She had a sewing machine at the back to make our clothes. In the early days, country stores were about a mile apart because people walked or rode horses to them. After automobiles were common, a gas station operated a business there before it became a grocery.
“Nobody loves this place more than we do. On the concrete out front, you can still see baby footprints that were made by my family. The wood for that store was cut from Southall. Our family built the home next door. It has been a big part of our lives and it still is. My mother is 75 years old; we’re just doing what’s best for our family,” she said.
Kellye King says losing this place is hard, but it’s harder for the community.
“This is more than a place to eat,” she said. “It’s a place for folks to gather and visit. We have a group of gentlemen who come every morning for breakfast and some of them come back for lunch. We know and love them. We know what they’ll order when they walk in the door. Just recently one of our breakfast regulars called in at 6 a.m. to say he wouldn’t be there; he didn’t want us to worry about him.”
Half Way Market still runs a tab for its customers.
“People pay us once a month or once a week or whatever they want,” Kellye said. “And that ticket is just not for adults, kids going to Grace Academy go on a ticket. Their parents pay it off regularly. Sometimes a parent will call and say, ‘We forgot to pack lunch. Would you take something up to the school?’ And we do.”
Half Way employs two full-time staffers, Nellie King and Faye Martin, and two part-timers, Amanda Crafton and Tyler Polk.
“We’re all going to be out of job,” Kellye said. “But we’ll find jobs. The loss is to this community. I am sadder about that than about our own situations.”
Half Way Market was originally named because it was half way to Franklin, Burwood and Leiper’s Fork. When the gregarious Greer owned the business, he would quip that it was half way to anywhere and everywhere.
“I loved owning the business,” Greer said. “I put in the Friday night catfish and frog legs dinner; Paul and Kellye have kept it and grown it along with their breakfast, lunch and in-between meals.”
He says Half Way pulled the community together.
“Paul and Kellye have customers who are now in high school who came with their parents when they were just kids. Closing Half Way hurts everyone in the Southall community. The community is taking the hardest lick,” said Greer, who operates a little eatery of his own on Southall Road in conjunction with his main business, curing country hams that are not only sold locally but shipped nationally.
He serves up food from 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon on Sundays. He says he does not plan to change any of his operating hours because Half Way is closing.
“It’s just a damned shame that Paul and Kellye have to close,” he said. “No one else can make that place work because no one else ain’t going to work that hard.”
Kellye said she and Paul have no plans for the immediate future.
“We have been blown away by the level of support we’ve had on this. We are so very grateful for the support via social media, phone calls, cards and the folks who are coming in for the last time before we close. These friendships we’ve made are priceless.
“Paul always opens early in the morning for the breakfast shift, then goes to work at his business, Paul King Roofing. He’ll keep roofing, and God will show us the way forward.”
Friday night will be the last time folks will be able to come have fried catfish or frog legs and all the fixin’s.
“We expect a big crowd,” she said. “We often run out, but we’ve bought plenty so as to serve every last person who comes. And Saturday will be very busy. It’s just so hard to say goodbye to these folks and this business.”