Community Stories Restaurants

Good People, Hash Brown Casserole Still Reign Supreme in Lacey’s Spring

Lacey’s Spring has stopped in time — to maybe around 1957 or so — with the same families living on the same plots of land they have been living on for generations. It’s a little like Maycomb — that little town in To Kill a Mockingbird — on the outskirts of the big city, where men in overalls and cowboy hats stop by Graves Grocery for some late afternoon hash-brown casserole. Pam Graves, owner and proprietor of Graves Grocery, is a longtime Lacey’s — that’s what the locals call it — resident.

It’s a slower pace out on Highway 36, but that doesn’t stop people from jumping into action when something needs to get done. Take Graves Grocery, for example. The former general store-turned-cafe was in desperate need of a kitchen makeover. Any good southern cook will tell you kitchen layout is a key component to good food — although other important ingredients include a well-seasoned, cast-iron skillet and good, ripe vegetables.

The building is more than a century old, but the former owners kept up with the times as they ran a general store out of the antiquated building. When Pam took over, she converted the tanning bed room — a small, closet-like space — into a kitchen. That worked for a while as she built up a following of regulars, but eventually the increasing demand for Pam’s home-cooked deliciousness outgrew that little room.

When one of Pam’s friends volunteered her church small group to work in the store for a few hours, Pam gave them ideas about things she needed done — they could work on the floors or work in an unfinished storage room. At first, the group from Church of the Highlands only planned to volunteer one Saturday, but as it often happens when good-hearted people begin tossing ideas around, their let’s-volunteer-a-few-hours-one-Saturday pet project turned into so much more.

By the end, the group had done a $10,000 kitchen makeover for Pam, although, thanks to the kindness and generosity of local individuals and businesses, they only spent about $3,000 out of pocket.

Only $3,000.

That’s still a good bit of change doled out by one of Pam’s friends and a handful of others who don’t even live in Lacey’s Spring.

For Pam and the Graves Grocery regulars — she can serve up to 75 customers on a good day — it’s more than kitchen appliances and new floors. It’s proof that people are still good. People still love the slow life, the home-cooked meals served out of a building that has seen more than any new-fangled restaurant chain has, and those long-forgotten recipes for things like hash brown casserole.

Two Eyes Aren’t Enough

For four-and-a-half years, Pam cooked out of that small, back room with a stove that only had two working eyes.

Over the course of those years, Pam met Lauren Hartung, a customer-turned-friend and big time supporter of Graves Grocery. Lauren knows a thing or two about home repair. After her daughters were grown and out of the house, she started a house-flipping business — something like Chip and Joanna Gaines minus the TV show and line of home decor items at Target.

Since Lauren’s mind and heart are always thinking about repairs, it wasn’t a stretch for her to think of Pam when her small group started brainstorming suggestions for a service project. They came up with some great ideas, but Lauren had something bigger in mind. She wanted to tackle the kitchen at Graves Grocery. But that meant it would no longer be a half-day volunteering thing. Lauren’s small group didn’t mind, and they agreed to take on a project that would end up taking them three weeks to complete.

“They just saw a need and wanted to be a blessing,” Pam said. “They had those gifts and abilities, and they just put them to work.”

Fixing Graves

First, they would need some donations. So Lauren had a big Fourth of July party at her house, where she put out a cowboy boot for donations. She raised $1,000 just from those guests. Supplies were donated as well.

Then, once her small group got into the kitchen and started poking around, they realized they would need to make repairs before they put new things in. There was some old termite damage and a leak in the roof.

But they tackled those issues one at a time, going above and beyond what Pam ever imagined. They fixed the termite damage, the joists in the floor, drywall, put in new counters and a new sink.

One woman donated new cabinets while another local business donated electrical expertise and a new breaker box.

The group also built a diner-style window in anticipation of the day Graves Grocery grows to the point Pam needs to hire more employees.

They even gave Pam a new stove with four working eyes.

“The biggest thing is that I can serve more efficiently,” Pam said. “Even the stove alone, the stove that they put in there … it cooks so much faster and is so much more efficient than the stove that I had. … I can serve people quicker.”

In some ways, Graves Grocery is a product of the community. Over time, people and groups have come in to help Pam with different projects in the store.

“That’s kind of how the whole store has been, different people would come in and help because there wasn’t ever a budget for that or extra funds for repairs or renovations,” Pam said.

If you’re looking for a small business to support, check out Graves Grocery. Whether you have a skill to volunteer or you’re just looking for some good, home-cooked food, take a drive down Highway 36 and stop by Graves Grocery.

There’s a special event coming up for Valentine’s Day and a new event on February 13 called Coffee, Christ and Conversation, a safe place to talk about Jesus and faith.

Graves Grocery truly represents community at its best — that new kitchen says so.


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About the author

Jessie Harbin

Jessie is a newlywed living in Meridianville with her husband and three dogs. She's learning to sail on their 26-foot sailboat in Guntersville. At the time of publication, nobody has fallen ill because of her cooking.

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