Wally’s Restaurant in East Ridge is celebrating 30 years of being in business on Wednesday, May 8, and to thank the loyalty of its customers, the restaurant will offer meals at 1989 prices.
All day long the East Ridge landmark business will let its patrons help themselves to the buffet for five bucks and dollar drinks. The breakfast buffet will be available the entire day beginning at 7 a.m.
Throughout the day there will be give-away’s to those visiting Wally’s, including logo t-shirts. A bluegrass band will regale patrons from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Glen Meadows, the owner of Wally’s, recently sat down with East Ridge News Online to reflect on the origins of his wildly successful business and offer some personal observations on keeping a balance in one’s work and life.
Meadows said that he had worked for Tony Kennedy at Wally’s on McCallie Avenue in his youth and through his high school and college years. When he graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in Business Finance, he went to multiple interviews at the old American National Bank and was on his way to embarking on a white-collar career.
Then fate kind of intervened in Meadow’s life.
Meadows said that Kennedy had seen an ad in the local paper that the Country Place Restaurant in East Ridge was looking for a GM. Kennedy suggested to Meadows that the pair go and check it out.
Meadows said that he and Kennedy met with the owner, B.J. Trussel. Trussel explained that a health crisis in the family had reared its ugly head and he needed some help to keep the restaurant viable.
Meadows said that if he took the job he would still be working for someone else, a prospect that wasn’t entirely appealing to the young man. He and Kennedy discussed that issue, and according to Meadows, Kennedy said, “let’s go buy that.”
Meadows said a business deal was struck and he and Kennedy were going to purchase the equipment and the name from Trussel. They were now the owners of “Wally’s Country Style Buffet.”
“Tony wanted the name,” Meadows said from a private dining room inside Wally’s earlier this week. “But the lettering for the sign on the Mansard roof wouldn’t fit. Plus, it was too expensive to buy the foam lettering.”
Meadows convinced Kennedy to change the name to simply “Wally’s.”
Meadows said he still gets invoices from the Coca-Cola distributor with the full blown “Wally’s Country Style Buffet” on the orders.
“We opened on Sunday, May 8, Mother’s Day, the biggest day any restaurant ever has,” he said. “Here I was, 26-years-old, and I thought I had walked into the pits of hell.
“I was working 90 to 100 hours a week,” he continued. “I basically lived here. It was like that for 23 years; seven days a week.”
But you will see, dear reader, there is more to Glen Meadows than work, business and money.
Meadows said that things “rocked along” until 1998 when an opportunity arose to purchase the building that he had been leasing for a grand a month.
“The $1,000 per month included water and Muzak,” Meadows said. “Old man King owned the building and he had a Rodeway Inn behind it. He had run a wire from the Roadway over here for the Muzak.”
Meadows said that Old Man King came over to Wally’s one day and informed him that he had sold both buildings to Dennis Patel. King said the lease would remain the same, “but there goes the water and Muzak.”
While Meadows was sitting for this interview he was interrupted several times on day-to-day operations at the restaurant. A new air conditioning system was being installed up on the roof and the contractors needed his attention. But his brief history of Wally’s was just getting good.
Meadows, fresh from the roof, sits back down and starts talking about the next big milestone in Wally’s history.
It was 1999 when Patel, the owner of the building, informs Meadows that the lease is up and Patel intended to build a new building. Patel refused to give Meadows a new price on leasing.
“I told him that I might have to find another place,” Meadows recalled, with a smile on his face as he told the story. “A couple weeks go by and I said to Patel, ‘What if you sell the corner of the property to me?'”
Patel was adamant that the property was not for sale under any circumstances.
A couple more weeks pass, Meadows said, and then Patel approached him and asked him if he was still interested in buying the property. Of course he was. Meadows said he took an 8X11 sheet of paper and started sketching out some plans. He got a survey done for a couple thousand dollars.
Meadows pressed Patel on the price. According to Meadows, Patel said, “I don’t know.” Meadows through out a price.
“I rolled the dice,” Meadows said. “(Patel) said ‘OK, done deal.'”
Meadows said the old building “was a rag,” built in the 1940’s.
“I begged the demo guy to get on that track hoe” and help knock the building down.
In 2000, construction began on the new Wally’s. It took nine months to finish. “We brought that building up out of the ground,” Meadows said.
In the last 30 years, Meadows said he’s seen competition come and go. He recalled the Bob Evans across Ringgold Road, and Shoney’s next door. Both long gone. He remembered Uncle Bud’s, the catfish house up the street. Gone. The Hungry Fisherman, what Meadows called “a very viable operation.” Gone.
“All these places were right in my wheelhouse,” Meadows said of the type of food served and the cost of the meal. “We were definitely in competition with them all.”
Meadows said he could count 30 places within a mile-and-a-half that Wally’s was in direct competition with over the years. They’re gone and Wally’s prevails. Why?
He said the menu has remained virtually the same, with only “a few tweaks here and there.” The vast majority of his staff of 30 has been with Wally’s for 20 years or more. And, Wally’s prices are very competitive.
Meadows said that he gets a good deal of business from people traveling on Interstate 75. In early March the spring break crowd headed from the frozen north to sunny Florida drop in. And they do it year after year after year.
“I got this high school band that goes to Orlando to a competition,” he said. “The band director told me recently that ‘this is our_ I don’t know, so many year _ stopping. See that kid over there, he’s a senior and he’s been coming here since he was a freshman.’
“We get a lot of that,” Meadows said. “I’m always trying to get a new customer.”
Meadows, a deeply spiritual man, said that in 2012 he decided to adjust the hours of operation. He closed on Sunday, Wally’s biggest day of the week.
“I was mentally drained going seven days a week; it was a grind,” he said. “You’ve gotta have a day of rest, mentally, physically and spiritually.”
And believe it or not, Meadows said closing on Sunday did nothing to the bottom line. Sales picked up on Friday and Saturday. The chicken and dressing that was the “special” on Sundays, he just moved to Saturday.
“We’re blessed,” said Meadows. “It’s been good.
“I might not have 30 more years in me, but I might can do half of that.”