Monday, September 19, 2016
Lib's Legacy Lives at The Ole Sawmill Cafe in Forrest City.
The front porch is littered with old contraptions - a cola box, a non-functional
The Ole Sawmill Cafe feels like an ancient edifice, but this building off Interstate 40 hasn't been here all that long. The heritage of this restaurant strings back a few buildings, a few locations, a few members of the family towards the center of town, all of 77 years or better.
While working on Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta a few years ago, I got on the phone with Tom Stewmon, who owns the place today. He enjoyed sharing bits of the past with me. He especially loved telling me about a woman by the name of, I kid you not, Liberty Bell.
Lib, as they called her, started selling burgers for a nickel from The Street Car Café all the way back in 1939. She was one tough cookie. When meat shortages caused her to need to raise the price to seven cents, one of her customers confronted her and complained. She got in his face and said “I’m sorry, I meant they’re now a DIME!”
Her husband Tommy served in World War II, and while he was overseas he’d send money home. Lib used that money to purchase railway dining cars to add to the ends of her streetcar. Tommy came back and worked alongside her – and one day bought a barber shop in town. Lib opened The Liberty Bell in the space next door.
Stewmon is Lib's grandson. He told me his mother worked at the old Liberty Bell, too.
“The last restaurant she owned was open 24 hours a day," he shared, "and once she worked 36 hours straight. My mother was her relief. When she got there, Grandma Lib didn’t say a word, she just picked up her purse and cut out.”
Lib tried to sell the café several times to her employees – they thought they could run the business like she had, but every time she tried that tactic she ended up buying it back. Tom told me Lib always put an ad in the paper later that would simply say I’m back – Lib Stewmon.
Lib finally did sell the Liberty Bell and retire, but the restaurant was destined to end up in family hands. Bill and Sara Stewmon purchased it and renamed it The Ole Sawmill Café, and it operates to this day.
It has been some time since I darkened the door, and even longer since I entered the establishment with my camera. I was chatting with a friend about the place this weekend.
If the buffet is not for you, I highly recommend the 10 ounce hamburger steak and eggs. The steak seasoning is right on the mark.
Ole Sawmill Café
2299 N Washington Street
Forrest City, AR 72335