In January of 2014, readers of Athens Now were given some good news in the form of an article on Lu Lu’s Place, letting folks know that “the legend” had reopened. It’s now a year later, and “the legend” cooks on, much to the delight of Betty Cowley, Elaina and Phillip Broadway, the rest of the staff, and Lu Lu’s fan base of loyal customers.
Miss Betty founded Lu Lu’s in 2007, her career in hospitality having begun at the age of 15 at the old Athens Café. She also owned a café in Iuka, Mississippi before starting up Lu Lu’s. She had absolutely no plans to retire, but her health became “uncooperative.” There were other owners, and a series of events before Phillip and Elaina Broadway opened Lu Lu’s again on November 14 of 2013. They had met at the restaurant when Elaina was part of the Lu Lu’s wait staff and Phillip was a customer. They fell in love, got married in Miss Betty’s back yard, and had their reception there at the diner.
Even though “technically” Miss Betty is retired, she tries to show up every day, and the Broadways are so glad she does. She taught everyone in the kitchen “just how it’s done,” and is more than just a great source of help; to everyone there, she is considered family.
For his part, Phillip invested a good chunk of his retirement to get the place back up and running, but it didn’t stop there. Unlike Miss Betty or Elaina, Phillip had absolutely no experience in the restaurant business, and has spent the last year learning the trade when he wasn’t working full time hanging dry- wall. He nodded when I asked him if he had felt as though he had “been tossed in the pool and told to swim,” but he is quick to acknowledge that Miss Betty and Elaina were there to help him every step of the way. “It’s been a challenge,” he said, “and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Betty said proudly, as though Elaina and Phillip are her own kids, “They’ve done good, and the older customers have come back.” And then she added something backed by decades of experience: “When customers come back over and over, you’ve done something right, and you gain more than you lose.”
While Elaina is the technical “boss,” she knows that truly serving is what keeps a “meat-and-three,” or any other type of eating establishment going. She told a story of a customer who had come in recently and wanted “real buttermilk pancakes.” He wasn’t content with actual buttermilk added to a baking mix. To him, “made from scratch” needed to be exactly that. So, that’s what Elaina made for him, and she told me through her classic grin, “Now he’s telling everybody that the best pancakes he’s ever had in his life he ate here!”
One thing Elaina, Betty and Phillip wanted readers of Athens Now to understand is that “Lu Lu’s Place is a diner, not a fast food place. The food is cooked with love, and made to order.” There are several signature pieces that put Lu Lu’s on the map in the first place, and they are all part of the daily fare. First, there is the Lu Lu Burger. Elaina says it’s like a “homemade Big Mac.” The meat is all beef, and there are two patties and three buns. Cheese comes with it, along with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, pickle, onion, and tomato. The Lu Lu Burger is served with fries.
The “Betty’s Scrambler” is delicious, I can say from experience, and it has hash browns, eggs, and a choice of up to three additional items like cheese, onions, etc, as well as your choice of biscuit or toast, and unending coffee. I think it’s my favorite item on the menu, and breakfast can be had all day if you choose.
Lu Lu’s was packed out on Thanksgiving, both as far as putting turkey and all the trimmings on the menu for the dine-in customers, as well as carrying on in Miss Betty’s tradition of preparing sides of all kinds for customers to augment their holiday table. They included chicken and dumplings, chocolate pies, banana pudding, sweet potato pies, and squash casseroles.
Other “Lu Lu’s News” includes the anticipated arrival in April of their first “Lu Lu’s baby,” the “bun in the oven” of one of their servers. Also coming soon, the healthy upgrade of fried pies, and the hiring of a new breakfast cook who worked at the Crow’s Nest for 23 years. “She can cook some BREAKFAST,” Elaina said proudly.
One last thing that is proof positive why Lu Lu’s became and still is a legend: their attitude toward the elderly and the ill in the Athens area. “We have lost some of our oldest customers this year, we love them, and we miss them,” said Elaina. She also added, “If they call us, we’ll make them their favorite off the menu and take it to them.” Now, that is food cooked with love, and you’ll find it at Lu Lu’s Place.
Lu Lu’s Place
Address: 22728 Pepper Rd. Athens, AL, 35613
Hours: Thu-Sat, 7am-8pm, Sun 7-3
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner