Over the New Years weekend, Lee McGucken, owner of Edith Ann, Taste of Home, took a look at the books.
In December, in the midst of the pandemic, Edith Ann’s, a beloved South Huntsville diner known for its breakfast, only made $ 8,000 in sales. He compared it to December 2019, when they had a turnover of $ 36,000.
“I just watched that and I was like ‘Wow’,” McGucken tells me. “I wasn’t making enough money to pay the bills… any invoice. I had to put everything on the credit cards to try to keep going, and I just couldn’t keep doing it.
So McGucken made the difficult decision to shut down Edith Ann for good. Their last opening day was December 31st.
When asked what he would like to say to the restaurant’s longtime patrons, McGucken said, “I couldn’t thank them enough for the support they have given us over the years. They became part of the family and we knew everyone who came. We knew their children. Their loyalty and support to us, I am eternally grateful to them.
Edith Ann’s was located in a 1,800 foot brick building at 11243 S. Memorial Pkwy., Next to Kings Inn.
The cozy interior had an old-fashioned dining vibe, with vintage stalls, a counter, and an open kitchen. It was as if Flo, that sassy waitress character from the vintage sitcom “Alice”, could materialize at any moment and say, “Kiss my grits!” The building was constructed between the mid to late 1970s, McGucken says. It used to be just an empty field there, a field where McGucken, who grew up in Southeast Huntsville, rode his horse in his youth.
McGucken opened Edith Ann’s in 2008. The restaurant was named after her mother, who taught her how to cook. “She loved to entertain and she was a wonderful cook,” says McGucken.
The restaurant’s most popular breakfast was its Southwestern Three Egg Chorizo Omelet. “The number of those we have sold amazed me,” said McGucken. Based on the number of eggs Edith Ann went through in any given week, he estimates that they have cooked over a million eggs during the life of the restaurant.
Edith Ann’s also served lunch, and the must-haves on this menu included their burger, ribs, and roast. “Everything was fresh,” McGucken says. “We had such a small place that we didn’t have room to store a lot of things.”
In 2015, AL.com included Edith Ann’s Southwestern Omelet on a list of “25 Essential Huntsville Restaurant Meals.” And in 2019 the restaurant was featured in “The Ultimate Huntsville Weekend: 30 Local Must-Haves.”
After McGucken announced the shutdown via Facebook, more than 100 customers commented, expressing their attachment to the restaurant and sharing memories. Julie Cochran wrote: “We loved eating at Edith Ann’s! The food was always like mom’s, and the vibe was so warm and inviting, just like home! Thank you for so many years in making our community a better place. Jennifer Fulton-Ashburn wrote, “I’m sorry to hear that. My favorite place for breakfast in town. And Harry Randy Buford wrote: “Your hospitality and excellent cuisine cannot be duplicated.”
In addition to serving tasty and hearty food in a charming atmosphere, Edith Ann has also made an effort to employ people with substance abuse issues. It was important to McGucken because he had taken this route as well. He says he got sober after receiving treatment in 2004 and has been sober ever since.
“I knew how difficult it was,” McGucken says. “Most people with substance abuse problems have a bad track record and when someone checks their background their chances of getting a job are slim to none. For almost 13 years, we have put many people with a problem to work and they have been able to make a good living.
In 2011, Edith Ann’s opened a second location, at Five Points, in the Pratt Avenue building that now houses Big Ed’s Pizza. But that place only stayed open for about a year, McGucken says, because it couldn’t generate the same level of weekday activity as South Huntsville.
Normally Edith Ann’s employed around eight people. In the end, during the pandemic, they were down to three. Carrying capacity has been reduced from 66 to 30. Before the pandemic, McGucken says Edith Ann made more than $ 30,000 in sales almost every month. “For a small place like us and only open for breakfast and lunch, I could make money doing those kinds of numbers,” he says.
McGucken isn’t quite sure what to do next. Prior to opening Edith Ann’s, he worked in corporate catering and retirement communities. He asked people to go into business to open a new restaurant. But he’s not so sure about that one. “Now is just not the time to start a restaurant, I can tell you that.”
While battling the pandemic, McGucken tried to keep in mind that Edith Ann wasn’t the only place to be in pain. Especially when he was frustrated with government restrictions on restaurants due to the pandemic.
“We fought a good fight and I was there probably a lot longer than I should have,” he says. “But I felt I had to do it for the people who worked there and our clients. We tried. But that was simply no longer possible.
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