For 36 years, Martha Benton has been making sure customers at the paper mill and across Coosa have had something good to eat. It might be a quick breakfast of homemade biscuits with gravy for a family of four on the way to school and work. Or maybe lunch or a pickup dinner on the way home.
Martha’s has been there with “real country cooking” and serving a following that goes across the Southeast. But that’s changing; just ask the customers who called us on Thursday.
On Oct. 29, Benton is closing her namesake, a business the family actually built for someone else. The simple answer is she’s tired. Benton started work at age 17, two days after high school graduation, and spent 15 years in banking before falling into the meat-and-three business.
She turns 71 on Halloween and says she wants to travel a bit but mostly spend time with her grandkids. A plan to pass the business to a relative didn’t pan out for health reasons so she’s hoping to sell the landmark at 4590 Alabama Highway.
“I lost my husband of 52 years last year,” says Benton, still very much in command as she talked someone through the process of making sweet tea before picking up the phone. (Her secret to great tea: be sure to use really hot water to help the sugar dissolve). “I’m just tired… this is a very physically demanding job.”
Her homemade dressing for Thanksgiving — a staple in many households — won’t be available this year. That’s one of the reasons she’s closing this month. “I just don’t have the energy” to handle that volume, she says, even if her strong voice and quick wit indicates otherwise.
Like many restaurants and small businesses, Benton came out of a rough start to 2020 because of the pandemic. In an interview with Hometown Headlines that April, she shared that “I’m working twice as hard with half the money… it’s been difficult but my main objective has been keep my employees working and I have been able to do that,” said Benton at the time. She had a staff of 10, including herself.
“It has been a real change. I miss the people and the talking…all the hub bub in the dining room,” she said then. “My customers are my friends…it’s been hard not to be able to see my friends.” (Previous story)
Martha’s Skillet survived that challenge thanks to her hard work but now, she says, it is time for something else.
She’ll remain open weekdays from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. for two more weeks. The restaurant’s Facebook page will continue to promote what’s on the menu (today’s highlights are fried catfish and barbecue chicken with mac ‘n cheese, baked beans and “everyday sides.”)
Come Monday, Nov. 1, you’re going to be missing those biscuits and gravy.
Some quotes from her customers (from the website):
“Oh how I miss the food from Martha’s!!! Would kill for some barbecue right now & a fried bologna biscuit for breakfast in the morning!!!! Do you all deliver to Kingston Tennessee? Lol…”
“Breakfasts are great–cheesy beef is wonderful!!!!”
“The best smoked ham and egg biscuit in the world!!”