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Cole’s Country Store

“What’ll you have?” asked the server who stood beside me. I looked at the lunch menu that was hand written on a large dry erase board.

“Maybe everything. It all sounds good,” I said.

“You can. Some people eat one plate full here and take another one home,” said Tish who not only serves the food, she’s also the cook and cashier. “Save room for cherry cobbler and ice cream.”

Everything on the menu was good country cooking. Chicken casserole. Meatloaf. Green beans. Pinto beans. Mac and cheese. Fried apples. Cooked cabbage. Stewed potatoes. Fried corn. Slaw. And cornbread baked in a black skillet.

This was my second lunch outing to Cole’s County Store. I’d recommended Cole’s, located here in Putnam County, to my college roommate and her two Davidson County teacher friends because it’s like going home to mom’s and grandma’s kitchens. And that welcome is exactly what owner, Marcia Cole Huffman, intends.

But why did she buy a rundown, century-old building that had been boarded and empty for years and is located on Highway 70 west of Baxter, miles from other retail businesses? And why open a meat-and-three restaurant?

Marcia’s close friends and sisters discouraged her. They advised her to not consider buying the store when it was advertised for auction, but Marcia could not let her great-grandfather’s store go to someone outside the family. “I was obsessed,” Marcia admitted.

Marcia, who lives in Georgia and recently retired from working in a systems engineering office explained, “Dr. Phylander Sylvester Cole, my great-grandfather, established the store. It has been his doctor’s office, a post office, a place for marriages by a family justice of the peace, a bus stop, a polling place, a source for hunting and fishing license, gas and coal oil, a general store, a gas station, and a community gathering place! One friend put it this way, ‘What kind of financial decision is it to buy a rundown store in the middle of nowhere?’ Of course, it was not a financial decision – it was a HEART decision. Both sides of my family were born and lived in this beautiful area. I’ve been to all continents except the cold one, and the best place to be is in Putnam County, Tennessee.”

Marcia thought she’d update the building to be a country residence and a place for family gatherings, but when community members saw work being done on the abandoned store, they assumed it was going to reopen. Marcia said, “The whole thing spiraled!” Tish wanted to open a “meat-and-3” and she talked with Marcia. Neighbors, family, and friends helped Marcia and Tish equip the kitchen and provided store furnishings from the mid-1900s when the store was in its heyday.

Heart and opportunity. That’s why Marcia bought the old Cole’s Store and opened a restaurant. It’s worth a drive down highway 70; just don’t be in a hurry. You’ll want to sit and talk a spell, like I did. The meatloaf, mac and cheese, green beans, and coleslaw tasted like home.