Long live the Dixie Queen

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

If you are 57 years old or younger and you live in Belmont, you’ve never known life without the Dixie Queen.
Deaton Funeral Home operator Noonan Deaton and his wife opened the business in 1953 as a gas station and a place to store caskets. The only food items sold were ice cream and milkshakes.
Two years later, Mrs. Deaton decided to add sandwiches to the menu: Hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches were 15 cents, cheeseburgers and barbecue sandwiches cost 20 cents, and drinks and ice cream would run you a nickel or a dime.
“They were open
Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sundays from 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” said Derlynn Credille, who owned the restaurant from 1970 to 2007. “Times were hard. They closed only one day a year, and that was Christmas.”
Today, the place is owned by Tina and Jeff Gray and it’s in the same location, in a small building on Second Street, the main drag through town. The place hasn’t changed much through the years and neither has the menu.
The best-seller is still the hamburger ($2.20), followed by the rib-eye sandwich ($3.85) and homemade chicken salad ($3.39 for a sandwich).
“People think because of the name ‘Queen’ that we’re a Dairy Queen,” said Gray, who operates the restaurant while her husband oversees the family’s painting business. “People think we have soft-serve ice cream, waffle cones and sundaes, but we don’t. We have one flavor of ice cream and three flavors of milkshakes and that’s it.”

Family to family
The Deatons kept the business until 1960, when they sold it to his brother, Robert Deaton, and Jack Von. A year later, the two men sold the business to Hardin Moore, who had it until 1963.
Percy and Jessie Pounders bought it from the Moores and kept it until 1970, when they sold it to their nephew, Vance Credille, and his wife, Derlynn. They sold it to the Grays in 2007.
“I’ve always had a full-time job and worked part time at restaurants to help out,” said Gray, 42. “I’d always had a hand in it, but never a place of my own. Eight or nine years before they sold it to us, we’d come in here, and every time I’d put a bug in their ear, ‘Let us buy this place from you.’ And then in March 2007, they called and said they were ready to get out.”
Early on, Gray did all the cooking at night, but now someone else does that so she can be home or at sporting or school events with her children, Makenzie and Ryan.
But when she is at work, she’s the one taking your order, delivering your food, refilling your drink glass and running the cash register.
“Every morning, we come in and we make the burgers,” she said. “We start with 17 to 18 pounds of ground chuck and we add our secret ingredients, mix that up and then put the meat through a patty press,” she said. “Our meat is never frozen. I think that’s why people like it so much. Some people order our burgers with slaw and a big ole’ hunk of onion on it.”

Staying put
The restaurant, which seats 12 in the front and 28 in the back, is often called upon to feed football or basketball players before or after a game.
It also serves businesspeople, retirees and out-of-towners.
“We have people here from Colbert County, Ala., Red Bay, Iuka, Booneville and Fulton,” Gray said. “We have a lot of people who live out of state who come in once or twice a year to have their motor homes serviced. We get a lot of Yankees. Lots of them.”
Eddie Wooten and his father, Pete, are two of the town’s regulars. They eat at Dixie Queen five days a week and have for more than 30 years. Eddie mixes up his orders from time to time, but Pete always orders the same thing: a burger.
“You just get the best burgers here, better than you can get anywhere else,” he said simply.
Gray said she often runs up against people who refuse to try anything new from her menu.
“People just kill me,” Gray said. “They always order the same thing. I ask them, ‘Don’t you want to try something different?’ and they say, ‘No, gimme that burger.”
The restaurant offers dine-in and carry-out service, but no catering or private parties.
“I thought about changing locations because I can’t provide room for parties and luncheons like other restaurants can,” Gray said. “And I’ve always wanted to serve pizza and have a salad bar, but we don’t have room for that here. But the bottom line is, it just wouldn’t be the Dixie Queen if we moved, and that’s what’s kept me from doing it.”

Belmont Dixie Queen
– Where: 380 N. Second St. (Highway 25 North)
– When: Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.
to 8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 2
p.m.; closed Sunday.
– Info: (662) 454-3344.

Click video to hear audio