Pat’s Cafe is proud to be the Home of the Slugburger….
In late 1987, Mrs. Pat Knight received a phone call from her friend and employer, Nola Jean Borden. Mrs. Borden had purchased Leonard’s Cafe in August, hiring Knight as the manager. That phone conversation changed the course of Knight’s future. “Ms. Nola Jean was a Memphis policeman, so she was what you would call an ‘absentee’ owner,” said Knight. “In this kind of business, if it’s got your name on it, people expect to see your face.” Knight purchased the cafe in January, 1988 and changed the name to Pat’s Cafe.
The restaurant first came into life as “Busters” some 45 years earlier, then was purchased and ran for years by Leonard Oliver, who sold it to Mrs. Borden, before finally coming to the hands of Pat Knight. “Leonard (Oliver) could come back right now and not miss a beat; everything is still the same, even down to where we put things in the refrigerator; we haven’t moved a thing,” said Knight. “Both of our grills are original to the building, and I’d bet they weren’t new when they were placed here.” The only major change Knight has made is to change bottle cokes to a fountain. “It’s kinda’ hard for a lady to lift those can cases, so the fountain makes it easier.” The café is also non-smoking, which wasn’t always the case.
“The price of burgers has gone up only three times over the years,” said Knight. “I can remember when they were fifty cents; now they’re $1.25. I’d say that’s still the cheapest burger in town.” Knight still offers the same full breakfast menu with country ham, homemade pancakes, biscuits with chocolate or sawmill gravy, hashbrowns, bacon, sausage and eggs. “We’ve expanded the sandwich line a little, adding a ribeye steak sandwich, and a smoked sausage, but otherwise, it’s still pretty much the same menu that’s worked for all these years.”
At 91, Betty Leonard was Knight’s longest term employee, having finally retired just three years ago. “When I hired Ms. Betty, she told me she might be a little bit bossy. I told her I’d treat her like my mama; I’d listen to what she had to say, then I’d go ahead and do what I wanted to anyway. It worked well for us.” Knight also has a special on the menu named after one loyal customer. “The ‘Wes Yancey Special’ came about because he ordered it so much, so we decided to just name it after him. The special is two biscuits and gravy with hashbrowns, and bacon or sausage.” Knight also has a birthday calendar on the wall filled with birthdays of her customers. “Some of them are passed away now, but I still like to put them on there to remember them by.”
Pat’s Café is possibly best known for her slugburger. The term actually has nothing to do with slimy snails, but is thought to have originated during the Great Depression when butchers used potato flour to thin ground beef to stretch it further. The resulting burgers sold for a nickel, commonly referred to as a ‘slug’.
Knight wouldn’t reveal her slugburger recipe, stating it was a closely guarded secret, as all good recipes are. However, she did reveal the contents of a good slugburger: flour, water, shortening, soybean grits, and yes, ground beef. “A lot of people don’t think there’s any meat in a slugburger, but there is.” Knight makes the burgers twice a week, and goes through 30-35 fifty-pound bags of soybean grits every year. “I use Mrs. (Deffie) Armours’ recipe, though I tinkered with it a little.”
The café added a new feature in 2011 with the addition of ‘Pickin’ on the Porch’. “We have music every Saturday night in September and sometimes October, depending on the weather. We’ve had country, bluegrass, old time rock n’roll, even Celtic music. We put a sign out in the flower bed to let folks know when a show is coming up. We invite people to bring their lawn chairs, and we block off the street, and just have a good time.” The first show this year will be Saturday, September 6 from 6 pm until about 8 pm.
“I never thought I’d do it this long,” said Knight of her career in the restaurant business, “but I don’t know when I thought I’d quit.” After working in a garment factory, driving a school bus, and working in both the elementary and high school cafeterias, Knight felt the switch to the café came at the right time. “I came from a large family, so I’d really been running a small restaurant all my life already.” As for the future, Knight has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I suppose they can just bury me under the floor one day, or maybe sprinkle my ashes in the flower bed out front,” said Knight. “Yeah, that would work pretty good.”
Pat’s Café is located on the corner of Court Avenue and 3rd Street. The café is open Monday – Saturday from 5 am – 2 pm, and closed on Sunday. Call-in orders at 645-6671. T-shirts are available with her famous slogan for $20. Mrs. Pat invites her friends and neighbors to stop in and see her.
By Lisa Forsythe