By Stephanie Johns
A downtown Madison staple, Ye Olde Colonial Restaurant will close its doors after 59 years this Saturday.
Looking around the building, the smell of breakfast in the air, Manager Jimmy Cunningham, son of the restaurant’s founder, Joe, said the restaurant holds many more good memories than bad ones.
Asked why the restaurant is closing now, Jimmy replied, “It’s just that time.”
Jimmy said Joe had an Economy Auto store at the site where the restaurant now sits. Joe added a sandwich counter around 1953 or 1954.
As business at the auto store declined, business at the counter remained strong. Joe refashioned his business into The Grill.
Following a fire, his father opened it back up as Ye Olde Colonial, Jimmy said.
Its location right off of Main Street made it an ideal stopping point for people traveling from Augusta, he said, noting that this was before I-20 was built.
The restaurant hosted a variety of people through the decades, from Lester Maddox, then presidential hopeful Al Gore, to members of the University of Georgia football team to local citizens.
He added that the restaurant has had long-term employees, even the part-timers.
“We had one who started working here in high school, worked here through college, started teaching and still stayed on,” he said.
Jimmy, his siblings, and even his daughter worked at the restaurant at different times, mostly while they were in school.
As Jimmy’s wife, Connie, noted, the restaurant has been a “home away from home” for many.
“Getting to know different people was fun, the friends I’ve made,” Jimmy said. “Just good memories.”
Joe offered steaks and seafood at a set price downstairs for a time. That changed following a visit from the football team.
“Dean Tate made them apologize for eating us out of steaks,” Jimmy said.
Joe closed the basement in the late 1960s after he bought the bank building next door and began using it as dining space.
“Then it was all on one level,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy and a younger brother, John, papered the vault in the second building with old railroad money issued in 1867.
“Ben Fortson found a box of old money,” he said, noting the state was going to burn it. Fortson called Joe and asked if he could come up with a use for it.
Joe became sick around 1976 or 1977 and then passed away in 1978, which is when Jimmy took over as manager.
When asked about future plans – for himself, the buildings, and his father’s collections of arrowheads, newspapers, and glass items – Jimmy shook his head, “I don’t know. … Nothing’s really been discussed on that part.”
He and his siblings will get together to make some of those decisions, he said.
Jimmy said he plans to stay in Madison, though, “It’s home.”