By Brenda Owen
NETTLETON Driving the shaded, country road that leads to Holley’s Restaurant outside Nettleton is a pleasure in itself, but the trip is just the beginning of a dining experience the whole family will enjoy.
Operating one of the earliest fish and steak houses in Northeast Mississippi, the folks at Holley’s, which opened in 1974, were cooking catfish before cooking catfish was cool.
Owner Thomas Galloway, whose wife, Laverne Holley Galloway, is the daughter of the original owners, said, “Our specialty is and always has been whole, fried catfish, as well as catfish fillets.”
The mouth-watering aroma of those fish frying greets hungry visitors as they pull into the parking lot of the plain frame building. Following their nose inside, patrons pass paneled walls lined with Home Interior¨ pictures, plaques and sconces mixed with touches of country decor. Besides the main dining room, there is a private party room which will seat about 30 people and three private dining rooms sized for families.
Long before the doors open on this typical Thursday, the restaurant is buzzing with activity. Somebody is heating up the oil and battering the catfish. Somebody else is grating fresh cabbage for the slaw which is marinated in a special dressing mixture. Nearby, another employee is carefully measuring ingredients for the restaurants homemade salad dressing.
“We sometimes have to make up extra salad dressing because people want to buy it by the quart to take home,” Laverne Galloway said.
Takeout orders are popular with local families who work in nearby plants and offices
“It’s nice to have someone else do the cooking once in a while,” said one tired customer as she left with her arms loaded with dinners.
After a hard day’s work on her job at the Amory Garment Company, Teresa Freeman and her nine-year-old daughter, Brittany Freeman, are looking over a menu in the main dining room.
“We come here a lot,” she says as Brittany decides on the chicken strips and she settles on a hamburger steak plate.
As the Galloways circulate among the customers chatting about mutual friends and the latest neighborhood happenings, Teresa Freeman comments on their friendliness, “We love them as much as we love the food.”
The genial rapport between employees and customers is obviously part of the charm of Holley’s. As she takes orders for catfish and chicken strips, waitress Robin Galloway, who married a cousin of the owners, shows off pictures of her baby girl to customers, some of whom remember the days when Robin herself would come to the restaurant as a toddler with her grandfather.
In the kitchen, Nettleton resident Syble Rea is scurrying around with dishes of steaming food, much as she did the night Holley’s opened up more than 20 years ago.
“It was just about half the size it is now but there would be people lined up outside, standing in line to be waited on.”
All in the family
The Galloways first bought the restaurant in 1989, but turned it over to an uncle for about three years. They returned to managing the restaurant in November.
“This restaurant has always been in the Holley family since it opened,” Laverne Galloway said.
Originally, the business was owned by her parents, Herman and Opal Holley. Later when his father became ill, youngest son Jimmy Holley stepped in to run the restaurant.
“All four of our children have helped at one time or another,” Opal Holley said, adding that her husband passed away last year, but she still occasionally pitches in at the restaurant.
“She still knows more about it than I do,” her daughter quipped with a grin.
The elder Holleys opened their first restaurant in Nettleton in 1968, but moved the business to a corner of their land in the country six years later and began specializing in catfish.
Their banker advised them against the venture, saying, “Nobody is going to go out there on that old gravel road.”
Opal Holley recalled that the banker came out to the restaurant on opening night and discovered to his surprise that he could hardly find a place to park.
“Cars were everywhere and people were lined across the parking lot waiting to get in,” she remembers.
As word of the restaurant spread, catfish-craving customers drove from surrounding counties, from as far away as Memphis and from several towns over the Alabama line.
The road has since been paved, and through the years, the restaurant has remained a favorite of area residents and continues to draw loyal patrons from a respectable radius.
One group of customers tells them, “We pass a half dozen fish houses every week to get here.”