Harry’s Place celebrates its 60th anniversary this year with third-generation family owner, Teresa Smith, also known as “Pooh,” who still follows the simple family recipe of mixing hospitality, down-home cooking, a venue for music, and still wind-up with a successful outcome, six decades later.
In fact, Smith, the matriarch and owner of the family business, said she still enjoys mainly “just being with the people” that come to eat and enjoy Harry’s Place.
On Thursday at “HarryFest” so termed by her oldest customers, Harry’s Place restaurant celebrated with a packed crowd of locals, that included former Elkin mayor of 25 years, Tom Gwyn, who was enjoying the outdoor patio with music by local bluegrass musicians. Gwyn called Harry’s an “institution” and long-time gathering spot of locals in a town, with a “great soul.” He described Smith as “a great citizen for the community that has supported so many great causes.”
While locals huddled in early to celebrate the night, Smith soon rushed in wearing a pink hat and blue jeans for the occasion. She explained she was enjoying the last few minutes of her 8-year-old son Smith Ray’s ballgame, then quickly went to work backstage at Harry’s Place in the grill area caringly patting out each hamburger one-by-one after she quickly donned an apron.
The Big Time Bluegrass Band with Mickey Galyean and Cullen’s Bridge performed along with special guest Van Vipperman and Garett Bryant pouring out some of the soul of the town as the audience members clapped and tapped their feet to the sounds of local bluegrass.
Many enjoyed themselves with a special menu of polish kielbasa sausage sandwiches with green peppers and onions, thick juicy cheeseburgers, or homemade barbecue.
Greg and Joni Glover, customers of more than 30 years, said being with the people they have come to know at Harry’s and having a local hangout remains important to them. They also said they do not want to miss out on Harry’s infamous burgers and called them the best around. Harry’s Place won the category of “best burgers” in The Tribune’s Reader Choice several years in a row.
Swan Creek residents and Harry’s Place customers, Jeff Wishon and Bonnie Jones, remembered the old-time Thursday jams sessions at Harry’s as once being so full that people could not get through the hallway. They recalled Harry being notorious for walking around with a change machine. Jones recalled Harry was a man of many wise words that people enjoyed listening to.
Wishon added, “Him and Nancy were as nicer people as they come.” They recollected menu favorites as the rib-eye steak, Nancy’s rum cake and the good-size portion of the meat and vegetable lunch menu still available today. Wishon said he has always loved Harry’s Place fried chicken.
Barry Carlton of the The Elkin Creek Boys Band grew up coming to Harry’s and as a result named one of his songs, Harry’s Place Blues. The chorus goes, “Bring me down to Harry’s place so I can hear the train go by.” Carlton added, “This is kinda the soul of the town,” meanwhile standing near the music platform and train tracks at Harry’s Place, where a train as if on cue had gone by before the beginning of the bluegrass first set.
Musician Keith Hall, also with The Elkin Creek Boys Band, used to play bluegrass with Chisel Ridge at Harry’s and recalled the restaurant as always being too packed to fight, like sardines, said Hall. He said he remembered Harry always having a smile.
Bluegrass musician Rick Pardue, who played on Thursday with the Big Time Bluegrass Band, started coming to Harry’s Place as a teenager and recalled the days of motorcycles and music at Harry’s “They always did things with continuity,” said Pardue, a fact the banjo player said he still appreciates along with others. He said bluegrass was a passion of Harry Smith.
Teresa “Pooh” Smith said she stills enjoys providing a venue for people in music and what she coined “a gathering place” for patrons.
A picture of Harry Smith still acts as a silent guardian around the restaurant where patrons discuss their happiness of experiencing family, good food and music, 60 years later. Pooh explained, “My mother did not have a menu or a price list; if you did not have money, you would still get served, they were just that kind of people.”
She added, “I can carry on family tradition, but I couldn’t do it without friends, family and loyal customers.”
Long-time waitress, bartender and Elkin native Sandra Carter said simply, “I love the hours and I love the people.”
Teresa Smith’s grandfather first started the business in 1953 as a pool hall and barbershop. After father Harry and Nancy took over, there was soon a music, beverage and food list that customers still talk about. After all, said Pooh, with a chuckle, “The biggest change is (that) we have central heating and air.”
Smith said she and her siblings used to walk from the house to the restaurant to spend time with parents. She said one of the more unique items that she remembered from the early days was her father’s green bean sandwich.
Harry’s Place patron Kim Swaim said she recalled coming to Harry’s with her family as a young woman, and how nice it was that Harry brought sour apple or grape bubble gum out to the car for the kids.
Smith said she has made a few other changes like setting hours and having employees, in an attempt to maintain “quality of life” and balance. She enjoys time with Smith Ray, who has a goal to make it playing baseball in the major leagues. As fate would have it, his favorite baseball team is the Tampa Bay Rays.
Her niece, Lauren Smith, also helps out at the restaurant.
Smith is active with the Ark homeless shelter, Elkin Presbyterian Church, and serves on the Elkin Main Street Advisory Board. She was given an award for her Main Street work in 2011.
“I think it is important to recognize that Harry’s has been in business for 60 years, and to have a business that is thriving in a small town today is something,” said Smith.
With a heartfelt sigh, the mother and young family restaurateur said, “I am very blessed.”
Tanya Chilton may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @TanyaTDC.