That warm feeling from a good home-cooked meal and good conversation around the dinner table is hard to find sometimes, particularly with everyone’s hectic schedules, jobs, and homework. Shelly Gupton is hoping to bring that feeling back with her new restaurant just northwest of Ashland City, The Family Table, which opened Feb. 26 at 4198 Highway 12 N.
“People like real food, and that’s what we make. We prepare meat and three meals with fast food speed but with that grandmother-made type of comfort,” Gupton said.
She had been running a small catering company for about 10 years before a conversation with a local business owner led to action a few months ago. Gupton said John Dowlen, who is building a new sawmill on Highway 12, had heard she could cook, and he then asked if she would be interested in opening up a restaurant at his property down the street from the mill.
Gupton said she saw this opportunity as a way to help boost the community she and her husband James and their four children have called home for several decades, and to help get people to slow down to enjoy the simple things in life.
“It’s good to sit around and talk. Our neighbors need that fellowship. We live in a good community. We don’t get to look at the buttercups anymore. God takes care of the sparrows and the lilies, so why wouldn’t we be taken care of? I want to do this to give back. We as a society don’t respect our elders as much as we should. We are so dependent on technology, we forgot about the family table,” she explained.
Extensive renovations led to the new look inside what used to be Mac’s Dairy Shack in the 1980s. The décor is all about family and cherishing the past. Yellow poplar wood paneling gives a warm, rustic feeling, and photos line the walls from generations past. Gupton has shared some of her family’s pictures, and neighbors like Hazel Head have donated some, too. A framed likeness of local legend Pat Head Summit is stationed in a place of honor near the front of the dining room.
Round wooden tables are just like the photos: A few are from Gupton’s family and others are handed down by folks in the community. Some of the more unusual art pieces include a painting of a longhorn cow by local artist Amy Bornstein. If the cow looks familiar, it lives a happy life munching grass in a pasture on Houston Fielder Road.
People who work in the dining room and kitchen at The Family Table are local, too, hired from Highway 41-A to Mosley Ferry Road, Gupton said. Customers are from nearby farms and from factories like A. O. Smith, or they may be passersby coming through on their way to Clarksville or to Nashville. More than 100 hungry folks crowded the restaurant during the soft opening, and she expects the lunchtime crowd to grow, especially when the new sawmill down the road opens in May.
Work starts early to get the home-cooked foods prepared, Gupton explained. Starting at 4:30 a.m., she starts making biscuits from scratch with techniques learned from her grandmother and mother, and her husband’s grandmother.
“I don’t measure it out, I just know when it’s the right consistency,” she said. One batch makes about 40 biscuits. Homemade pancakes are the specialty of the day on Saturday morning, when only breakfast is served.
Next is making the meat of the day, sides, and desserts. Gupton and her staff fry up the chicken, pork chops, or whatever meat is the choice of the day. They also mash the potatoes themselves. No boxes of potato flakes here. Same goes for the desserts: Homemade banana pudding, cobbler, pecan pie, carrot cake, cheesecake, and strawberry shortcake are all possible choices, depending on what fruits are in season.
Gupton said she would like to extend hours to include Friday nights by late spring or summer, when she will have more help from local students who will be out of school. Right now, The Family Table’s hours are Monday through Friday mornings and afternoons. Breakfast is served 6 a.m. – 10 a.m., while lunch is served 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Saturday mornings, breakfast is served 6 a.m. – 11 a.m.