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Hazel’s Café, A Travelers Haven on Old ‘71

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April 8, 2011 by wcobserver

By Velda Brotherton

After World War II Americans took to the highways and by the 1950s tourists traveled the width and breadth of our nation. In Arkansas, Highway 71 provided the only north/south connection between Kansas City and the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. Trucks took the two-lane road to deliver everything from southern produce to northern products. It wasn’t long before tourists from all 48 states discovered Highway 71 and the scenic, though somewhat treacherous, Boston Mountain route.

From Fayetteville south small service stations, motor inns, gift shops and cafes became popular spots with tourists. There were no or Sonics or McDonalds.  In those days most businesses were owned and run by individuals. The small cafes often times offered no more than a few booths or tables and a counter with a stool or two, but mostly they offered good food. Cooks were kept busy preparing every meal to order. Many remained open 24 hours a day. Come 4 a.m. someone arose to bake fragrant pies to top off those scrumptious meals.

Let’s begin our tour of old Highway 71 by returning to the 50s  and heading south out of Fayetteville on an early spring morning. We’ll pass the R & S Grill just to the south of town where we might find ourselves a steaming cup of strong coffee. Most eating places in those days were on the north side of town.

Awakened and alert we can take a leisurely drive toward Greenland. We  are probably driving a pre-war car. There were plenty of them around for the blue collar fellow. Some veterans had managed to buy themselves a ‘49 Ford or one of those fancy new Chryslers. Our ‘49 Ford is a beauty. A shiny maroon color with a high bench seat up front and plenty of room in the back for the kids. There’s headroom enough to accommodate Dad’s favorite hat.

Across from the Airport Motel, there’s a Phillips 66 station alongside the railroad tracks

and next to that a little place known simply as Hazel’s Café. Open 24 hours a day, its motto is

“serving 29,000, 29 at a time.” To place these today, check out those apartments north of the airport and you’ll be there.

In 1955 Hazel Tibbs left her home in Ohio and returned to the place of her birth bringing with her three young sons. She first started up a café in Mountainburg, but after awhile heard of a café that had burned four miles south of Fayetteville, so she checked it out and liked it. There were living quarters upstairs and the location was ideal.

Hazel knew how to run a café and she knew how to cook and she needed to make a living for her three boys. Once opened, she hired two girls, and recalls that Madge Clark was the first to be hired.

Those days created fond memories for Hazel. She remembers her first customers after she opened up. To compensate her income she had bought novelties like salt and pepper shakers and a few souvenirs.  There was a shelf put up behind the counter to display them.

“Two ladies and a man came in,” she says. “They each ordered coffee and toast. A cup of coffee cost them 5cents, the toast added a dime, so they spent 15cents each on item.. While they ate I kept unpacking the souvenirs and sold $15 worth to them,” Hazel laughs. “I knew then I needed more space.”

She got a chance to buy a glass showcase and put jewelry in it. Soon people were shopping for Christmas gifts as well as souvenirs.

I ask where she got the souvenirs and she says, mostly from traveling salesmen who’d stop by. She began ordering pictures laminated on slabs of wood from a supplier in Michigan. They

were shipped on the train and she added stickers that read “Souvenir from Greenland, Arkansas.”

Hazel has two of these hanging in her home today.

What really attracted customers was the good food, and most especially her homemade pies. Besides a steady stream of hungry truckers, there were the people who came in especially for those pies. Hazel’s also became a bus stop. She had a flag out front and if someone came in to wait for the bus, she would raise the flag and the bus would stop and pick them up.

One couple told her, “We’ve been driving for hours to find this place. They say you make the best pies.”

Lots of people were on their way to the horse races in Hot Springs or other attractions like that. They chose their meals from a menu that listed Sirloin Steak dinner for $2.25, a fried chicken dinner for $1, a T-Bone dinner for $1.75. A slab of that homemade pie went for 15cents.

On the breakfast menu was listed something we’ll never see on menus today. Milk toast for 25cents.

I want to know about the boys and how she managed to raise them and still devote so much time to the café. She said they could go play, but had to be home before dark. There was a small area in the back of the kitchen where they did their homework. This question reminds her of another story about the year they decided to sell Christmas trees out in front of the café.

“Angus Howland owned property near a row of houses out back, and he said the boys could cut cedar trees off the land and sell them for Christmas. There was a handmade sign on a board fence out front that read Greenland, Population 160. The boys would sit on top of that fence with their trees, selling them for 25cents each.” She stops to laugh, “One day a car squealed and I ran to the door, thinking someone might have hit one of the boys. But they had stopped, backed up and were taking pictures of the boys selling the trees while perched on that fence.”

Hazel continued to run the café until 1964, meanwhile in 1962 she married Henry Frank Phelan. He didn’t want her to have to continue to run the café, so after they bought a place in

West Fork, she put it up for sale or trade. It wasn’t long before someone contacted her and wanted to trade his house in West Fork for the café. She’d always admired the house and so they made the trade, and her career as a cook and owner of a small café was over. Her husband passed away in 1995. Today at 87 Hazel enjoys visits from her three sons, eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren in that house she traded for a café so many years ago.

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