For generations, Daisy Miller has fed Orange Mound families with down-home, authentic soul food.
Her Orange Mound Grill stands as a monument and historic remnant of the flourishing “Orange Mound, TN” of the early 20th century.
“We used to have two theaters here in Orange Mound,” Miller recalled. “One was over on Carnes and the other one was on Park Avenue. There were businesses all over Orange Mound, and everybody was making money. Most of them are closed down now. But we have been blessed because we are still here.”
The eatery is tucked away alongside of Airways Boulevard, down under the major highway. It still has the 1238 Airways address and operates in the original building.
“My uncle and aunt bought this lot and built the restaurant back in 1942,” said Miller. “Walter and Daisy Young served a lot of fried chicken then. My Aunt Daisy was the cook. I was named after her. Every summer, I would come here from our farm in Greenwood, Mississippi as a young girl.”
“Mrs. Daisy” is 83, and claims to have retired eight years ago. But she lives in the house she had built 55 years ago behind the restaurant and comes to the grill every day to just “help out.”
“I don’t do no more cooking,” said Miller. “I taught the younger ones how to do it so I don’t have to do all that now. This is all I do — write down the orders and take the money.”
The operation is efficient. Miller takes the order, writes a ticket, calls out the order, and collects the money.
Without a calculator, cash register or computer, Miller instantly adds up the order and gives customers their total. Her mind is as sharp as it ever was.
Miller has seen her customers get younger and younger over the years. Many of the original clientele are deceased now, but their children and their children’s children are faithful customers who come several times a week.
Take Mack Bernard Gray Jr., for instance. His father used to bring him to the grill when he was a boy.
“I came up here to show Ms. Daisy my father’s obituary,” said Gray. “His funeral was last week, and I promised Ms. Daisy I would bring his program down here. But I also came to get some chitterlings. I’ve been coming here for chitterlings all my life. My children love them, too, but I didn’t bring them today.”
Miller graduated from Broad Street High School in Greenwood, and moved to Memphis permanently to work at Orange Mound Grill.
“I started working here in 1959 for $25 a week. I got paid every Monday. I’ve been cooking for 60 years,” said Miller. “This is the only place I have ever worked. I started out as a waitress before I started cooking. I even met my husband here — James Miller. I bought the grill from my uncle in 1973, for $19,500.”
Back in the “good ole days,” a helping of chitterlings was 52 cents. Later, they went up to 78 cents.
“A lot of the white police officers would come here to eat,” said Miller. “Lots of people would come over to Orange Mound for our chitterlings, chicken and dressing and barbecue ribs.
“Working people would come on lunch break, too. Things have changed, but business is still good. It will never get back to where it was, though.”
Miller says it gives her “peace of mind” to know that when she is gone, the grill will still be operating.
“I’ve already taught my granddaughter, Ivy, to make sweet potato pies,” said Miller. “She isn’t but 7 years old. My other granddaughter, Hope Miller, is now the owner of Orange Mound Grill. When I’m dead and gone, my grandchildren will always have a place to work.”
Miller racks up thousands of dollars a year during the holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Easter. The grill’s “Turkey Special” and family-sized serving of chitterlings are popular staples.
“Our big days are the holidays,” said Miller. “That’s one thing that has never changed. We been doing holiday specials since 1964.”
The 2020 pandemic didn’t slow Orange Mound Grill up one bit. The restaurant served customers curbside for most of the year.
“Monday through Saturday, we open at 11 and close at 4:30,” said Miller. “And on Sunday, we open at 12 noon and close at 4:30. Before the pandemic, we stayed open until 8.”
In addition to serving meals, Orange Mound Grill still makes fruit preserves — peach, apple and pear. Miller makes them herself. The homemade Chow-Chow is still a high-selling favorite.
Miller has three children and adopted a granddaughter. “The grill” is her legacy.
“I worked hard for years because I want the grill to go on long after I’m dead and gone,” said Miller. “
I’ll keep teaching the younger ones all I know so when I leave here, they can go on.”