Georgia city wrestles with future of ‘Old South’ restaurant

December 11, 2021 GMT
Aunt Fanny's Cabin, a long-shuttered restaurant that once one of the most popular eateries in the South during World War II, pictured on Nov. 18, 2021 in Smyrna, Ga.  A city task force has been assembled that could restore some of its former luster, but not everyone wants to use public funds to immortalize the restaurant that thrived, in part, by making demeaning racial stereotypes profitable.(Matt Bruce/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Aunt Fanny's Cabin, a long-shuttered restaurant that once one of the most popular eateries in the South during World War II, pictured on Nov. 18, 2021 in Smyrna, Ga.  A city task force has been assembled that could restore some of its former luster, but not everyone wants to use public funds to immortalize the restaurant that thrived, in part, by making demeaning racial stereotypes profitable.(Matt Bruce/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Aunt Fanny's Cabin, a long-shuttered restaurant that once one of the most popular eateries in the South during World War II, pictured on Nov. 18, 2021 in Smyrna, Ga.  A city task force has been assembled that could restore some of its former luster, but not everyone wants to use public funds to immortalize the restaurant that thrived, in part, by making demeaning racial stereotypes profitable.(Matt Bruce/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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Aunt Fanny's Cabin, a long-shuttered restaurant that once one of the most popular eateries in the South during World War II, pictured on Nov. 18, 2021 in Smyrna, Ga. A city task force has been assembled that could restore some of its former luster, but not everyone wants to use public funds to immortalize the restaurant that thrived, in part, by making demeaning racial stereotypes profitable.(Matt Bruce/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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Aunt Fanny's Cabin, a long-shuttered restaurant that once one of the most popular eateries in the South during World War II, pictured on Nov. 18, 2021 in Smyrna, Ga. A city task force has been assembled that could restore some of its former luster, but not everyone wants to use public funds to immortalize the restaurant that thrived, in part, by making demeaning racial stereotypes profitable.(Matt Bruce/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

SMYRNA, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia city may soon decide what to do with a decades-old restaurant that served southern staples and lured celebrities but also used racist imagery and tropes to evoke the pre-Civil War South.

A task force in Smyrna is expected to decide by the end of the month whether the Atlanta suburb should preserve, rebuild, demolish or try to give away Aunt Fanny’s Cabin, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Thursday.

The now-defunct restaurant became a well-known dining destination starting in the mid-1900s. Its guests included sports icons Jack Dempsey and Ty Cobb and Hollywood star Doris Day. Former President Jimmy Carter stopped at the cabin during his presidential campaigns.

But it also relied on an “Old South” decor and theme to bring in diners, the AJC reported.

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According to news reports, Black youths hired as servers wore wooden menu boards around their necks and danced on table tops, and the walls had framed advertisements for slaves. The restaurant’s namesake, Fanny Williams, sat on the front porch in a faded dress and headwrap telling customers about her days as a slave, though she never was a slave, according to the AJC.

“I don’t think that is what we really want to portray as Smyrna because I don’t believe it is Smyrna today,” said Councilman Travis Lindley, the task force’s chairman, who is against preserving the building.

But others favor restoration. The cabin was built as a “saddlebag” house, a 19th-century style of architecture that was popular throughout Georgia during World War II but has now become rare, according to the AJC.

“There’s certainly not another one in Smyrna. There’s (likely) not another one in Cobb County,” Smyrna Councilman Charles “Corkey” Welch said.

The restaurant closed in 1992, and most of the structure was later stripped away or torn down. But Smyrna bought the front porch and a room near the entrance and added them to a replica of the cabin that was built at the city’s welcome center.

Refurbishing the site could cost roughly $550,000.

“Exactly what are we preserving? That is still a conundrum for me,” Smyrna Councilman Lewis Wheaton asked. “We still have not nailed that. And the fact that we haven’t nailed that, for me, is indicative of the problem.”