Since 2007, Claudine Brown and her family have called Ms. Brown’s Country Store & Kitchen in Beech Grove, home.
The small store dates back to the 1930s when the old highway ran through what is now the back of the store.
Like the community around it, the store has evolved, while still holding to the character that has helped it endure.
“Patrons of Ms. Brown’s Diner are an eclectic mix, like my music – a piece of American pie ‘cracker-barrel’ style,” said Ms. Brown’s house performer, Emile Burke.
Burke, an Americana singer working on a second soon to be released album, plays regularly at the diner.
“We’ve been playing here for I guess a year and a half,” she said. “The people just love this place. They come out and fill it up,” she said.
“And the food is fabulous––the best catfish you’ve ever had.”
Stepping into the store, the memorabilia on the walls – scythes that cleared nearby rolling hills, slat floors, unchanged since before the Great Depression, ignites the imagination to sepia-toned vistas of the past.
“The wheat rake [mounted now where general store shelves once hung] used to be Clyde Earl Bush’s. He’s local,” said Brown’s daughter-in-law, Renee Hammond.
Opening to the front of the main area is a storage room where a sliding door once feed supplies to decades of farmers.
On walls are marks from a now-forgotten hand that listed prices for cracklings and horseshoes.
Hammond touches the marks and reads that five pounds of meal once cost 45 cents, 10 pounds once a mere $.75.
“We crawled into the attic and found a bundle of sickle handles…and the old register,” she said.
In the main room, a rattlesnake and a copperhead killed by a former owner on a farm just down the road hang.
In the main room, in the back corner, sits the stage where Burke belts out her sultry blend of country and rock.
Between sets, Burke mingles, picking up local lore.
One tidbit is that the store was frequented by the notorious John Dillinger in the early 1930s.
She said that Thomas Parker, who’s father ran the general store that used to sit just down the road, told her about Dillinger.
At the time, Highway 41, the Dixie Highway, was the gateway to Florida.
Parker was 8 or 9 years old when he met Dillinger. He remembers the man as charismatic.
To the left of the stage, is the kitchen where Brown shines. It opens at 4 a.m. for a group of early-riser regulars.
“It’s just home,” said Hammond.
Details all around the diner are a living history of the community.
“You can just feel the vibe in here,” Burke says.
She adds that the store’s acoustics are fabulous.
“It’s just perfect – perfect sound,” she said.
Burke has become a fixture at the diner, with a history as rich as the venue.
She said that she has performed in Middle Tennessee for 12 years. She comes from Pennsylvania coalminer stock.
“Dad sang in a quartet, and Mom constantly played folk and country music records in the house.”
Burke grew up in Markham, Va., nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Burke said that Ms. Brown’s has no cover for the family friendly shows.
“Ms. Brown’s is BYOB (bring your own
bag/bring your own beverage/bring your own beer/wine). It is also on
the Nat’l Registry of Historic Places,” she said.
Find Ms. Brown’s Country Store & Kitchen on Facebook.
Upcoming shows are 6-8 p.m. on March 22, April 5 and May 3. For a complete listing, go to www.emilieburkeband.com.