Forty-four years, almost to the day, Stein’s opened to a busy, lunch-time crowd in 1978 that just never stopped.
It closed to great fanfare for the last time last Friday (July 1).
Tuesday through Friday, the home-cooked food drew a faithful crew of diners, who only ate lunch at Stein’s. On the restaurant’s last day, the steadily swelling crowd was reminiscent of that first day.
“I already had a beauty shop on the other side,” said Willistine Myrick, the eatery’s proprietor. “I had about 400 clients at my beauty shop. They all knew I was opening the restaurant (on Lauderdale just south of E. Mallory). And I put out flyers, and the word got out like that. It was crowded the very first day, and I feel blessed that it just never dropped off.”
On Monday, July 4, three days into her “retirement,” Myrick sat down for a post-closing interview, arranged by one of Stein’s most prominent regulars, Southern Heritage Classic founder Fred Jones Jr.
Two stories emerged: One was the making of “Ms. Stein,” and the other was a band of regulars, who held court daily at the “Truth Table.”
Myrick reflected on a difficult childhood that shaped her gentle, soft-spoken personality so endearing to customers.
A bunch of regulars took the center table, like they had a standing invitation for lunch. The two narratives converged.
“She’s like family,” said Jesse Chatman, director of administrative services at LeMoyne-Owen College. “I’ve been going to Ms. Stein’s for more than 30 years.
“For the past 15 years, I have worked at LeMoyne, where I can eat free of charge. But I eat at Stein’s. It’s kind of like coming home for lunch to eat with family.”
The colorful collection of regulars was not just coming to eat. Stein’s offered a place for “gathering.”
There is a difference, customers said.
“We were just like family, like brothers, having a meal together,” said Curtis Williams, owner of Allied Bonding Company. “And I guess we did what brothers do, talk about each other, and laugh about it.
“And boy, did we laugh. But we could also share situations going on, and get great advice for resolving them, you know, like family. There were sisters, too.”
Jones, who has dined at Stein’s every day for two decades, helped create the camaraderie of “Truth Table” regulars.
It is not King Arthur and the round table of knights, but it’s a “thing,” nevertheless.
“I ate at Stein’s four or five times a week,” said Jones. “But there were a whole lot of us you could call ‘regulars.’ It wasn’t just the home-cooked food, or the close friendships we made over the years. They were great, but really, it was Ms. Stein that made Stein’s what it was. She’s special. She’s family.”
NIKE Director of Global Community Impact Willie Gregory has been coming for 15 years. For him, every day is a good day for lunch.
“Tuesday was ‘Turkey Neck Tuesday.’ Wednesday was lasagna. Thursday was liver and rice, and Friday was fish,” said Gregory. “If you wanted something different, you could let Ms. Stein know the day before, and it would be waiting for you. She cooked so clean and healthy. Fish was fried in peanut oil.”
Willistine Myrick always was a nurturer.
“You can’t cook for people all these years, and they not become your family,” said Myrick. “My mother died when I was 13, and I had to care for six under me. I was always making sure everybody was okay.”
Myrick left Helena, Arkansas in 1964, for more opportunity.
“I worked and enrolled in Allura’s School of Beauty,” said Myrick. “It was over there at Vance and Third. I finished the nine-month course and started working in a couple of beauty salons. I had clients who followed me from school. I decided one day I could open my own.”
Stein’s Beauty Salon opened in 1968, where it still operates today. Clientele grew quickly. They were always looking for something to eat, and Myrick thought opening a restaurant would be a great idea. Well, she did, it was, and the rest is history.
Myrick has lots of valid reasons for permanently closing the restaurant ⸺ time for retirement, health issues aggravated by stressful work, food costs, finding dependable employees.
Several factors made Friday, July 1, the perfect day to close. After all, Stein’s opened its doors in July.
“I closed on Friday,” said Myrick. “It’s only been three days, and I feel better already. The stress was raising my blood pressure. I’m just going to rest and enjoy being home.”
Is this really the end of Stein’s?
This is it for now, but who knows about the future?
“We’re sad about the closing,” said Gregory. “But I’m happy for her. It’s time to go home and enjoy herself.”
Chatman had another idea.
“I guess we’ll have to find another place,” said Chatman. “Or, maybe, pray that she gets better and comes back.”