Patrice Bates Thompson is glad to open restaurant doors after a brief hiatus. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Soul food lovers can rejoice, now that The Four Way Soul Food Restaurant has partially reopened for business.

Last week’s surprise grant award of $40,000 on the “Today” show, not to mention the great response to getting vaccinated in Shelby County, portended the re-opening of dine-in services.

“We’re just happy to be getting back to business in some degree,” said Patrice Bates Thompson. “This pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. Families, businesses – everyone has had to make some changes and adjustments to survive.”

In the past few weeks, the eatery has been closed, even for take-out orders. Calls to the restaurant would simply roll over into the automated voice mail.

Not only has take-out service resumed, but limited dine-in hours are available Thursday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Diners who made Four Way their after-church lunch spot can once again enjoy a meal on the first, second and third Sundays of each month.

The grant was presented as a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The initiative supports restaurants that are a part of the historic registry. 

The funds are to be used for sprucing up and refurbishing the façade of the restaurant, which may include painting, scenic landscaping and clearing away accumulated trash and debris. 

American Express funded the program through its “Backing Historic Small Restaurants” grant initiative.

For Thompson, the grant is a morale booster for the Four Way staff, who have had to make sacrifices over the past year as the restaurant, at times, shut down during the shelter-in-place orders and limited work opportunities while inside dining shut down for an extended period. 

Before operations were completely halted, some take-out service was available.

A national audience watched as Thompson was given the welcome news about the grant. She applied months prior to that time, along with other legendary establishments across the nation.

Thompson inherited the business from her parents, Willie Earl and Jo Ellen Bates, who bought the historic restaurant in 2002. Like her parents, Thompson has worked to not only maintain the iconic restaurant as an integral part of its community, but also to provide employment for workers who are just like her family.

“It always meant a lot to my parents that Four Way provided jobs and helped people provide for their families,” said Thompson. “We want to continue to do all we can to make sure people have a place to work. Maintaining employment for our staff is very satisfying and a big part of why I love doing what we do. And, of course, we love our customers who have been so loyal over the years.” 

Clint and Irene Cleaves opened The Four Way in 1946 as a restaurant, pool hall and barbershop at its present location at Mississippi Blvd. and Walker Ave.

Not only did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eat at The Four Way, he shot pool there as well.

Clint Cleaves was chauffeur to Mayor E. H. Crump when Cleaves opened for business 75 years ago. Because of Crump’s influence, The Four Way enjoyed almost immediate success and a well-known reputation for the best food in town. Much was also made of the stellar serving staff.

Out of an abundance of caution, seating for dine-in service will be limited as social distancing measures are observed.