Downtown Cafés: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

In the 1940s and 1950s, there were numerous cafes in downtown Conway. Some were opened before World War II but many of them got their start in the 1940s. Visitors had their favorites and many who shopped downtown during this time have fond memories of eating at their favorite café.

One of the oldest besides Goad’s Café was the Palace Café. Located at 804 Front Street (across Main Street from the Post Office), it was opened in 1924. Mrs. Claud V. Ross ran it for 17 years before selling it to Bill Glenn in 1946. Glenn previously had operated the Owl Café in Conway before he entered the service in World War II. The building was owned by D.O. Harton and the Santa Fe Trailways Bus Lines was headquartered there.

In 1948, Glenn sold the café to Joe Paladino, brother of Tom Paladino. He had previously operated 64/65 Café with his brother, Tom Paladino before going to Kennett, Missouri for several months. Santa Fe Trailways became Continental about this time and moved into the R.L. Taylor building east of the Post Office with Inter-City Bus Line.

Another downtown café that opened before World War II was the Co-ed Café. Located at 1113 Oak (now part of Fletcher Smith’s Jewelry), it was opened in September, 1936 by Guy Maxey and George Ussery. Maxey and his wife, Re, also owned a grocery at the corner of Clifton and Mill and lived above the grocery.

Maxey sold the café to Toni Rossi in August, 1938. Rossi, who had 15 previous years of experience in the restaurant business, changed the name of the café to Rossi’s Café. He operated it for eight years before he sold it to Harold and J.D. Cummins in January, 1946. Both were WWII veterans, Harold served in the signal corps in the south Pacific while J.D. served in the infantry in the Aleutians.

J.D. had considerable experience in the Little Rock restaurant business before joining the army so he took over the kitchen while his brother, Harold, supervised the front. Harold and his wife, Clynell, started running the café in the mid-1950s. Every morning, Harold went in at about 3 or 4 a.m. to bake the bread and the pies. The Co-ed was known for its pecan pie and sandwiches.

The Cummins owned the Co-ed for 30 years before retiring in 1975. Various former patrons remember the Co-Ed being the place to get their liver and onions, fried chicken, hamburger steak or macaroni and cheese. They have also bragged about the mashed potatoes and gravy. Many just remember now nice the couple and their children, Sue and Bill, were.

Norman and Rosemary Suzee White Cia bought the restaurant when the Cumminses and kept it for five years. The jewelry men—Charlie Dayer, George Robinette, Fletcher Smith and Liston Hager—were regular coffee drinkers there during this time. Mary Cobb and her daughter, Beverly Meeks Davis, then bought
the café in the 1980s.

Another café was Moll’s Café at 1011 Oak Street (current location of Park Hill Home) operated next door to Dempsey’s Beauty School in the J.J. Hiegel building. The building burned in 1940 but was rebuilt. There was also a Dempsey Café at 1018 Oak that opened in March, 1941.

Owen White, former manager of the City Café at 1014 Front, opened up a restaurant under his name down the street at 1011 ½ Front in early 1938 but closed it by early summer and returned to the City Café. The City Café offered the “biggest ice cream cone in town” in one of its 1941 ads.