Remembering The Chicken House, Betts Grocery

0
719
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED TO THE OBSERVER

By Ann Cipperly

The once popular Chicken House and Betts Grocery stood for many years at the site where Southern Union is currently located. The Chicken House was a favorite place in Opelika for dining out and parties, especially after Auburn football games. Marguerite and Gus Barnes operated the restaurant adjoining the grocery owned by Kathryne and Robert A. Betts. Both businesses served as a landmark for travelers, with the history beginning many years earlier along a dirt road without electricity or running water.

Before the restaurant and grocery store were constructed, Robert Betts’ father, W.A. (Tobe) Betts, owned a small wooden store building in 1925 at the site, which was a mile from the city limits. When the dirt road to Lafayette, then known as Highway 37, was in the process of being paved, the wooden store was on the right of way and had to be torn down.

Two years later, Tobe Betts, who was also the sheriff, decided to replace the wooden structure and built a brick store near where the other building had stood. He hired his son-in-law, Leonard Thomas, to operate the business for him while he was busy with law enforcement duties.

When the store opened, typical supplies included fat back, streak-of-lean, octagon soap, plug tobacco, tins of snuff, overalls, candy in buckets, plows, horse feed, lard and nails, among other products. Soda water was dispensed in bottles and chilled in an ice box.

Most items such as sugar, coffee, beans, rice and meal were purchased in bulk, weighed and sold in paper bags. Flour was sold in 24- and 48-pound bags, and when the bags were empty, the material was used for making clothes.

Customers would pay 3 cents a pound for fat back, 10 cents a pound for lard and 10 cents for a loaf of bread. A well across the highway supplied water for customers and mules.

Most customers arrived in a horse and buggy until the Model “T” and “A” Ford came along. Even though there were few cars, a gasoline pump was installed in front of the store under a shed. Gasoline was hand pumped into a glass bowl on top of the pump and allowed to flow into the car by gravity. Kerosene and motor oil were dispensed from metal drums by the quart and gallon.

It was a custom at the time for farmers to have tenants drive a mule and wagon into town on the fourth Saturday of each month for supplies. Rather than come into town, many of the farmers on that side of town would stop at Betts for supplies.

Many customers brought mules and horses for shoeing at the blacksmith shop in the building adjacent to the store. Plows were sharpened as well as general repairs for farm tools.

Around 1930, the cut-off on Highway 29 from Lafayette Highway to Ridge Road was developed and paved. All the traffic on Highway 29 from Atlanta to Montgomery and Lafayette on Highway 37 passed by the store. It became a popular stop with travelers for information and restrooms.

In the early 1930s, Tobe added on to the store and opened a restaurant called Tobe’s Barbecue. The barbecue and Brunswick stew were cooked in open pits and iron kettles across the highway. Charcoal was made by burning oak and hickory logs, and an entire hog would be cooked. For many years, Taylor Gentry was the main cook.

The restaurant became well known for its barbecue and stew, which was sold as take-out. Barbecue sandwiches and the stew both sold for 15 cents, a hotdog with chili without beans was 5 cents, as well as soda pop. Homemade pies and hamburgers among other items were also available.

At that time, the area didn’t have electric, water or gas lines. Years  later, Tobe and others paid to have them installed.

Tobe served for three terms, and he was sheriff for Phenix City when it was part of Lee County. He started under Mayor Dickson serving as deputy sheriff for Sheriff Hodge, Butler and Moon. Since the sheriff could only serve a four-year term then, he had to wait four years before running again.

When Tobe wasn’t serving as sheriff, he operated a timber farm. At one time, the Betts family resided in the old brick jail building on Avenue A and later in the house connected to the jail on Avenue B. Tobe built a house across from the store around 1930.

A dairy and only two houses were located between the store and city limits, the C.P. Stowe and Raleigh Corr residences. The county poor farm for older persons was located a short distance in back of the store. The farm offered housing and food provided by the county.

Tobe’s son, Robert A. Betts, taught in the electrical engineering department at Auburn University for 16 years before being called to active duty in January 1941. After returning from his tour in 1946 and trying politics, he operated the store.

When Tobe  died in 1947, Robert purchased the stock of merchandise from Leonard Thomas and ran the grocery store.

Around 1950, Gus Barnes was operating the Chicken House Restaurant on Columbus Highway when the building was destroyed by fire. Gus leased the Betts Barbecue Stand and continued to sell barbecue, adding their famous fried chicken, homemade gravy and biscuits.

Gus’s wife, Marguerite, was the cafeteria manager of Northside school and would help her husband with parties at the restaurant. She would go over after school to check on the cooks as they dipped the chicken in buttermilk and then crushed corn-flakes before frying.

As the years progressed, the restaurant grew  to include a small room with booths. Later, the dining room and kitchen were expanded. Residents in Opelika, Auburn and  Valley held parties at the restaurant.

For many years, the Chicken House was one of the few places for dining out in the area. The restaurant became popular, especially after Auburn football games when the road would be lined with cars.

The restaurant was a favorite place to dine for Joan and Luther Bennett. They enjoyed the fried chicken and a simple lettuce salad with thousand island dressing. Joan became friends with Marguerite when she was the secretary at Northside school.

Joan, who is now 92 years old, said she was surprised how simple the dressing was when Marguerite told her how to make it. Joan remembers it was mayonnaise mixed with ketchup and a dash of tabasco. Generally, thousand island dressings also included pickle relish.

At one time, a large sign was erected on top of the restaurant advertising radios for sale at Crossley Furniture Store in Opelika. The sign contained a picture of the latest floor model radio. A speaker was placed on the radio, and music and news played through the speaker by a battery set inside the building, which was quite odd in those days.

Betts Grocery’s typical customer was often someone who would stop for a loaf of bread, saying they had forgotten to get it at the A & P. Since Highway 29 was the main route in those days from the north, many people stopped for information over the years. One couple stopped for the usual information and inquired about restrooms. Betts told them to go through the side door of the grocery and through the Chicken House. The couple returned laughing, as they had the impression the restrooms were outside through the chicken yard.

The once popular Chicken House and Betts Grocery stood for many years at the site where Southern Union is currently located. The Chicken House was a favorite place in Opelika for dining out and parties, especially after Auburn football games. Marguerite and Gus Barnes operated the restaurant adjoining the grocery owned by Kathryne and Robert A. Betts. Both businesses served as a landmark for travelers, with the history beginning many years earlier along a dirt road without electricity or running water.

Before the restaurant and grocery store were constructed, Robert Betts’ father, W.A. (Tobe) Betts, owned a small wooden store building in 1925 at the site, which was a mile from the city limits. When the dirt road to Lafayette, then known as Highway 37, was in the process of being paved, the wooden store was on the right of way and had to be torn down.

Two years later, Tobe Betts, who was also the sheriff, decided to replace the wooden structure and built a brick store near where the other building had stood. He hired his son-in-law, Leonard Thomas, to operate the business for him while he was busy with law enforcement duties.

When the store opened, typical supplies included fat back, streak-of-lean, octagon soap, plug tobacco, tins of snuff, overalls, candy in buckets, plows, horse feed, lard and nails, among other products. Soda water was dispensed in bottles and chilled in an ice box.

Most items such as sugar, coffee, beans, rice and meal were purchased in bulk, weighed and sold in paper bags. Flour was sold in 24- and 48-pound bags, and when the bags were empty, the material was used for making clothes.

Customers would pay 3 cents a pound for fat back, 10 cents a pound for lard and 10 cents for a loaf of bread. A well across the highway supplied water for customers and mules.

Most customers arrived in a horse and buggy until the Model “T” and “A” Ford came along. Even though there were few cars, a gasoline pump was installed in front of the store under a shed. Gasoline was hand pumped into a glass bowl on top of the pump and allowed to flow into the car by gravity. Kerosene and motor oil were dispensed from metal drums by the quart and gallon.

It was a custom at the time for farmers to have tenants drive a mule and wagon into town on the fourth Saturday of each month for supplies. Rather than come into town, many of the farmers on that side of town would stop at Betts for supplies.

Many customers brought mules and horses for shoeing at the blacksmith shop in the building adjacent to the store. Plows were sharpened as well as general repairs for farm tools.

Around 1930, the cut-off on Highway 29 from Lafayette Highway to Ridge Road was developed and paved. All the traffic on Highway 29 from Atlanta to Montgomery and Lafayette on Highway 37 passed by the store. It became a popular stop with travelers for information and restrooms.

In the early 1930s, Tobe added on to the store and opened a restaurant called Tobe’s Barbecue. The barbecue and Brunswick stew were cooked in open pits and iron kettles across the highway. Charcoal was made by burning oak and hickory logs, and an entire hog would be cooked. For many years, Taylor Gentry was the main cook.

The restaurant became well known for its barbecue and stew, which was sold as take-out. Barbecue sandwiches and the stew both sold for 15 cents, a hotdog with chili without beans was 5 cents, as well as soda pop. Homemade pies and hamburgers among other items were also available.

At that time, the area didn’t have electric, water or gas lines. Years  later, Tobe and others paid to have them installed.

Tobe served for three terms, and he was sheriff for Phenix City when it was part of Lee County. He started under Mayor Dickson serving as deputy sheriff for Sheriff Hodge, Butler and Moon. Since the sheriff could only serve a four-year term then, he had to wait four years before running again.

When Tobe wasn’t serving as sheriff, he operated a timber farm. At one time, the Betts family resided in the old brick jail building on Avenue A and later in the house connected to the jail on Avenue B. Tobe built a house across from the store around 1930.

A dairy and only two houses were located between the store and city limits, the C.P. Stowe and Raleigh Corr residences. The county poor farm for older persons was located a short distance in back of the store. The farm offered housing and food provided by the county.

Tobe’s son, Robert A. Betts, taught in the electrical engineering department at Auburn University for 16 years before being called to active duty in January 1941. After returning from his tour in 1946 and trying politics, he operated the store.

When Tobe  died in 1947, Robert purchased the stock of merchandise from Leonard Thomas and ran the grocery store.

Around 1950, Gus Barnes was operating the Chicken House Restaurant on Columbus Highway when the building was destroyed by fire. Gus leased the Betts Barbecue Stand and continued to sell barbecue, adding their famous fried chicken, homemade gravy and biscuits.

Gus’s wife, Marguerite, was the cafeteria manager of Northside school and would help her husband with parties at the restaurant. She would go over after school to check on the cooks as they dipped the chicken in buttermilk and then crushed corn-flakes before frying.

As the years progressed, the restaurant grew  to include a small room with booths. Later, the dining room and kitchen were expanded. Residents in Opelika, Auburn and  Valley held parties at the restaurant.

For many years, the Chicken House was one of the few places for dining out in the area. The restaurant became popular, especially after Auburn football games when the road would be lined with cars.

The restaurant was a favorite place to dine for Joan and Luther Bennett. They enjoyed the fried chicken and a simple lettuce salad with thousand island dressing. Joan became friends with Marguerite when she was the secretary at Northside school.

Joan, who is now 92 years old, said she was surprised how simple the dressing was when Marguerite told her how to make it. Joan remembers it was mayonnaise mixed with ketchup and a dash of tabasco. Generally, thousand island dressings also included pickle relish.

At one time, a large sign was erected on top of the restaurant advertising radios for sale at Crossley Furniture Store in Opelika. The sign contained a picture of the latest floor model radio. A speaker was placed on the radio, and music and news played through the speaker by a battery set inside the building, which was quite odd in those days.

Betts Grocery’s typical customer was often someone who would stop for a loaf of bread, saying they had forgotten to get it at the A & P. Since Highway 29 was the main route in those days from the north, many people stopped for information over the years. One couple stopped for the usual information and inquired about restrooms. Betts told them to go through the side door of the grocery and through the Chicken House. The couple returned laughing, as they had the impression the restrooms were outside through the chicken yard.

On Friday, Dec. 13, 1974, the Betts closed the store to go shopping, and 30 minutes later a driver drove his car through the front of the store building. The shed was damaged so that it had to be demolished. The only entrance to the store was through a side door from the restaurant. The restaurant closed over the next few years, and the grocery store closed around 1978 when Robert retired.

As new stores were being opened in the area, the old store and restaurant were being torn down to make way for highway construction. At the intersection, a traffic light was installed. Later, Southern Union expanded to the area near where the store and restaurant once stood.

Betts Grocery was once a landmark to travelers, and many stopped at the little store for bread or milk on the way home from work. Friends would meet for dinner and parties at the restaurant. It was the warm, hospitable feeling that people would later remember most of the little businesses, once standing on the edge of town.

Information for article from interviews with Kathryne and Robert Betts in the 1980s. Recipes include ones Kathryne Betts and Marguerite Barnes enjoyed making. The chicken recipes are from others for creating a specialty chicken dish at your home.

On Friday, Dec. 13, 1974, the Betts closed the store to go shopping, and 30 minutes later a driver drove his car through the front of the store building. The shed was damaged so that it had to be demolished. The only entrance to the store was through a side door from the restaurant. The restaurant closed over the next few years, and the grocery store closed around 1978 when Robert retired.

As new stores were being opened in the area, the old store and restaurant were being torn down to make way for highway construction. At the intersection, a traffic light was installed. Later, Southern Union expanded to the area near where the store and restaurant once stood.

Betts Grocery was once a landmark to travelers, and many stopped at the little store for bread or milk on the way home from work. Friends would meet for dinner and parties at the restaurant. It was the warm, hospitable feeling that people would later remember most of the little businesses, once standing on the edge of town.

Information for article from interviews with Kathryne and Robert Betts in the 1980s. Recipes include ones Kathryne Betts and Marguerite Barnes enjoyed making. The chicken recipes are from others for creating a specialty chicken dish at your home.

Marguerite Barnes’ Seafood Casserole

Joan Bennett, who was a friend of Mrs. Barnes, shared this recipe. Joan and her husband, Luther, enjoyed dining on fried chicken and a simple green salad with thousand island dressing at the Chicken House.

1 cup shrimp

1 cup crabmeat

1 cup oysters, optional

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup English peas

1 1/2 cups cooked rice

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 Tbsp. chopped onion

Breadcrumbs for topping

Mix all ingredients together, except breadcrumbs. Pour into a greased casserole. Top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees.

Almond Bisque

Marguerite Barnes

22 marshmallows

½ cup milk

1 tsp. almond extract

½ pt. cream, whipped

Graham crackers (crushed)

Melt marshmallows in warm milk. When cool, add almond extract, then add to whipped cream.

Put graham cracker crumbs in bottom of pan. Pour mixture in pan, put more crumbs on top and freeze.

Lemon Bisque

Marguerite Barnes

1 ¼ cups water boiled

1 pk. lemon Jell-O

1 large can Pet evaporated milk

1/3 cup sugar

3 Tbsp. lemon juice

Grated rind of 1 lemon

Mix ingredients together. Pour over 2 cups graham cracker crumbs. Place in refrigerator and chill.

Old “Timey” Coconut Cake

Kathryne Betts

1 cup oleo (butter or margarine), room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

1 ½ cups buttermilk

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Cream oleo; gradually add sugar and cream together well. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each.

Stir baking soda into buttermilk. Add alternately with flour, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and salt.

Pour batter into three greased and floured cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until tests done.

When layers are cool, spread filling.

Coconut Filling:

3 cups sugar

1½ cups milk

2 pkg. frozen coconut

¼ lb. oleo (1 stick butter or margarine)

1 tsp. vanilla

Combine sugar and milk in a saucepan and cook until smooth. Add coconut and cook until syrup spins a thread. Add oleo and vanilla. Ice cake while filling is still warm. Can garnish with more coconut.

Asparagus Casserole

Kathryne Betts

1 can green asparagus (set aside the liquid)

1 can English peas, drained

2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced

Few minutes of pimento to add color

½ lb. grated cheddar cheese

White Sauce, recipe follows

Buttered breadcrumbs

Grease bottom of casserole dish. Layer all ingredients, adding a little white sauce after each. Top with breadcrumbs. (Dry buttered toast makes a good topping.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes. Serves 8.

White Sauce:

3/4 stick Oleo (butter or margarine)

4 Tbsp. flour

Liquid from asparagus

Milk

Melt butter in a saucepan; add flour and stir until smooth. Stir in liquid from asparagus. Then add enough milk for sauce to be desired thickness.

Refrigerator Cookies

Kathryne Betts

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. baking soda

1 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts), finely ground

Cream butter and sugar until well blended. Add eggs and beat.

Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Gradually add to creamed mixture. Add nuts and blend well.

Combine dough into rolls about the size of a silver dollar. It is easier to work with small rolls. Mixture can be made into four rolls.

Wrap rolls in waxed paper (or plastic wrap). Place in refrigerator.

When ready to bake, thinly slice rolls into cookies. Place on cookie sheet, and bake at 375 degrees  for about 10 minutes until lightly brown.

Pecan Tarts

Kathryne Betts

Tart Shells:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 stick оleo (butter or margarine), room temperature

3 oz. pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

Mix all ingredients together. Roll dough into balls (will make 24). Place balls in mini muffin tins and press to form the tart.

Filling:

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

¾ cup chopped pecans

2 Tbsp. оleo (butter or margarine)

Mix all ingredients together. Place filling in tart shells in muffin tins. Bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chicken Recipes For Creating Your Own Specialty

While we don’t have a recipe for the chicken served at the Chicken House, here are some recipes to try for creating a special dish for your family.

Fried Chicken From Another Former Famous Opelika Restaurant

Andy’s Restaurant Fried Chicken

2 chickens, fryer size

2 cups flour

2 Tbsp. salt

1 Tbsp. black pepper

1 Tbsp. white pepper

Wash chicken, roll in mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Let sit in bowl for 10 or 15 minutes.

Preheat grease so it is hot enough for flour to stick to chicken when it is put in fat. (Deep fat fryer is better.)

Cook until well browned. If using a deep fat fryer, do not turn. If not, turn once.

Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken

1 fryer, cut up, chicken parts or chicken tenders

Salt, pepper to taste

Buttermilk

All-purpose flour or self-rising flour

Oil

Salt and pepper chicken pieces. Place chicken in bowl; cover with buttermilk. Chill overnight. In a heavy skillet, heat oil. Dip chicken in flour.

Fry over medium heat until golden brown and thoroughly cooked. (Oil must be hot when adding chicken or the flour will fall off.)

Oven Fried Chicken Strips

1/3 cup melted butter

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 cup round buttery cracker crumbs (about 44 crackers) or dry breadcrumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1¼ lb. chicken tenders

Combine first 5 ingredients. In a separate bowl, stir cracker crumbs or breadcrumbs and Parmesan together.

Dip chicken in butter mixture; then in cracker crumb mixture. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is brown and cooked.

Debbie’s Oven-Fried Pecan Chicken

1 cup prepared biscuit mix (Bisquick)

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning, optional

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 broiler/fryer, cut in serving pieces

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup melted butter

Combine biscuit mix, seasoning and pecans. Dip chicken pieces in evaporated milk, then coat well with dry mixture. Place in a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Pour melted butter over chicken, completely covering every piece.

Bake in moderate 375-degree oven for one hour or in slow 200 degree oven for 2 hours. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here