City Café serves up 120 years of down-home dining

February 21, 2020, Jason Reynolds, The Murfreesboro Post (Photography credit Frank Caperton)

On Feb. 10, 1900, President William McKinley was running for a second term and Spanish-American War hero Theodore Roosevelt was only one of several contenders to run as his vice presidential partner. In other news on that date, a restaurant named City Café opened in downtown Murfreesboro.

Now, on the eve of another presidential election, the eatery that bills itself as Tennessee’s oldest restaurant continues to serve up down-home cooking in its third location in all its years.

Café owners Teresa and Rollin Kellogg held a day-long birthday party with balloons and cake for their fans on Monday, Feb. 10.

According to a history flyer the Kelloggs published in honor of the birthday, proprietor Dorsey Cantrell opened City Café 120 years ago at 11 South Side Public Square, the building that now houses Bink’s Outfitters. The Cantrells bottled milk from their Salem Pike dairy in the area above the café.

Although service with a smile is a trademark of City Café today, the first waitresses — sisters Audie and Sara Overall, and Peggy Brown — didn’t start until 1936, according to the flyer.

City Café changed hands a number of times and was located at 107 E. Main St. before moving in 1992 to its current home at 113 E. Main St.

Teresa Kellogg and business partner Tammy Greer bought the restaurant in 2014. Kellogg said she stepped away for a while and then on March 1, 2018, she and her husband, Rollin, bought the business from Greer.

When asked what keeps her returning to work day after day, Teresa Kellogg said, “The love of the place, to be a local person and the privilege to own the legacy. This has the history of Murfreesboro.”

Kellogg was hard-pressed to answer this question: “What is your favorite item on the menu?”

She said that was hard to answer because she cooks everything on the menu. Then she paused and said she likes the fresh vegetables — especially the turnip greens. Then she added, “meatloaf.”

Kellogg was asked what she would like people to know about City Café. She answered, “When you come in the door, you come in as a stranger and leave as family.”

As the history flyer acknowledges, City Café is not only a place for “good food,” but also “good gossip” and “good memories” for locals, serving as a place for people to cross paths and chat.

During the birthday celebration, a reporter stopped to talk with several of those locals and get their take on the best of the best served up at City Café.

Rutherford County Commissioner Chantho Sourinho paused from eating breakfast to point to his plate — pancakes.

Real estate broker Larry Sims said his favorite item is the “meat and three.” He also enjoys deviled eggs, which the staff keeps back for him, he said. He said he has been eating at City Café since 1969.

Tracey Binkley paused from breakfast to say his favorite dish is the cheeseburger, cooked “the way God intended.”

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