City Cafe: A Historic Meat & Three

October 3, 2019, Blaine Little, The Murfreesboro Pulse

Even if for those new to Murfreesboro, it’s hard to imagine anyone wouldn’t discover the City Cafe. The century-old diner, a historic landmark just off the Square, is a local staple. The food is good, but so is the company. There are always lively discussions and exchanges of ideas. That’s what attracted the Kelloggs to the restaurant in the first place—the people.

When they first heard the business was for sale, the Kelloggs realized it was an opportunity to bring a dream to fruition. Teresa Kellogg and a business partner bought the Cafe in 2014. In 2017, Teresa’s husband, Rollin, retired and the Kelloggs bought out the previous partner. Now, it is truly a family business. Rollin added baking to his set of skills, while Teresa runs the kitchen.

The couple says it’s easy to be business partners when you are best friends.

The restaurant first opened on Feb. 10, 1900. Though it has moved a couple of times, it has always been in downtown Murfreesboro and been a favorite gathering spot for local residents. It was founded by Dorsey Cantrell, who also ran a dairy atop the original location. Though there have been a handful of different owners over the years, the menu has remained largely the same.

Though you can’t get a hamburger for a nickel any more, you can get great home cooking at a good price. The establishment has always provided a hearty breakfast or meat-and-three for lunch. However, that doesn’t stop the owners from changing up the menu every now and then. Rollin offers seasonal pastries and, very soon, Teresa will be serving her red beans and rice.

A challenge the current owners face is retention of staff, a common issue for all restaurateurs. Though, they do have some servers who have been with them for years and even employees who have been with the Cafe for over 30 years. It’s that type of loyalty that keeps good consistent customer service.

I ask the owners “What gives you momentum?”

“It’s the love of what we do,” Teresa said. “Older people say they remember coming in here when they were in college and now their children [and grandchildren] come here.”

It is said if you want to know what is going on in Murfreesboro, City Cafe is the place to be. For years local politicians have held court and pundits have discussed current events in the restaurant. There is also the occasional prayer breakfast upstairs. As Teresa put it; “You may come here as a stranger but you will leave here as a friend.”

The majority of Murfreesboro residents were not born here, but a visit to the City Cafe is a great way to immerse yourself in Middle Tennessee culture. There are old menus and an original sign adorning the walls. The food is also a nod to antiquity, as it is all made from scratch.

City Cafe is open from 6 a.m.–2 p.m. every day but Sunday. Currently, dinner is not available, but you may reserve the restaurant in the evening for special events. The dinner option is something the owners are considering bringing back, but of course, that means more staff and food items.

As for promoting the business, it was featured on Tennessee Crossroads a while back. Live music on Saturdays will bring in some people as well.

“You have to utilize the tools you can use, and social media is a big thing,” Rollin states. Check out daily specials at facebook.com/citycafe.murfreesboro.

City Cafe truly is a Rutherford County institution. On Feb. 10, 2020, the Cafe will celebrate 120 years of continuous business. That could very well make it the longest running restaurant in the entire state.

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