For 112 years, Murfreesboro’s City Cafe has been the epicenter of Rutherford County’s political, social and business communities.
Judges, doctors, professors, real estate moguls, bankers, farmers, amateur historians, professional historians, journalists, newspaper editors, attorneys, small business owners, big business CEO’s, photographers, florists, city councilmen, sheriffs, deputies, city police chiefs, police officers, barbers, antique dealers, musicians, firemen, fire chiefs, jewelry dealers, state representatives, state senators, radio personalities, veterans of every modern war, construction workers, county commissioners – all were seen regularly at the meat-and-three’s community table to discuss the public and not-so-public happenings of the county.
But the tax man visited Wednesday morning, and the tradition ended.
A quick perusal of county documents shows 14 federal tax liens have accumulated each quarter since 2007, when owner Scott Perkins purchased the business from previous owners Garry and Pat Simpson.
In addition to the federal liens totaling $88,111.83, a state tax lien was filed in December 2008 against Perkins and its total is kept private under state law.
In fact, Perkins has not paid county or city taxes on the business since he took ownership in 2007 and the county has filed four lawsuits over the last five years against Perkins in Chancery Court in an attempt to collect on the debt.
Despite these lawsuits, Perkins maintains he was surprised by the seizure.
“I did not see this coming,” Perkins told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “They did not alert me.”
According to Billy Trout of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, several attempts were made to contact Perkins in order to work out payments on the lien, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
Department of Revenue officials subsequently entered the building Wednesday morning, ushered out customers, confiscated the cash register, changed the locks and posted seizure signs in the City Cafe’s windows.
Perkins placed a sign of his own on the window as well Thursday, stating the Department of Revenue is “claiming we owe money we have already paid and do not owe ...
“We have spent months asking for the chance to prove this and made our desire to work this out very clear to them,” the sign reads. “I can’t get into too much detail right now, but the facts are on our side and we intend to fight this unfair and unnecessary action.”
Whatever the outcome of the inevitable legal battle, community members are sad to lose one of the most iconic traditions in the county.
Randy and Belinda Smotherman are lifelong residents of Rockvale and own Smotherman’s Antiques on the Murfreesboro Square, which brought them to City Cafe nearly every morning for breakfast before opening up their shop.
“I can’t put it in words,” Randy said of City Cafe’s impact on the community. “It hurts me personally and it hurts the entire town to see such a tradition come to an end.”
“We plan our day each morning around that table with friends and we get to see other small business owners, developing friendships,” he added. “No other establishment has that kind of atmosphere.”
City Cafe opened Feb. 10, 1900 on the southside of the Square, where Bink’s currently stands. Dorsey Cantrell was the creator of the restaurant. “Uncle Dorsey” operated the cafe for more than 50 years. The Watson family acquired City Cafe after his death, operating it for decades until the Cooper family took over. The Simpsons purchased the restaurant from the Coopers, who sold it to Perkins in 2007.
Every governor of Tennessee since 1900 has visited the cafe at least once to seek votes from the lunch or breakfast crowd, and it was a regular stop for Tennessee’s senators and representatives as well.
Even vice presidential candidate Al Gore Jr. visited the cafe as part of Bill Clinton’s campaign for the presidency in 1992, and it was a regular stop for city and county office holders and hopefuls. It was also known for its seeming ly infallible straw poll.
It is unknown what will become of the property, and legal sources close to the Post said it is unlikely that it will reopen anytime soon.
Perkins’ parents, Rusty and wife Cindy Perkins, are the sole owners of the building at 113 East Main St., while business owner Scott Perkins simply filed its profit and loss on his personal tax return as a sole proprietorship.
That means he is responsible for satisfying the state and federal tax liens personally.
As for the Chancery Court proceedings arising from delinquent business taxes, employees of the Rutherford County Trustee’s office said they could not comment during ongoing litigation.
The status of the state business license for City Cafe is unknown because such information is kept from public view by state officials, who took over such responsibilities from County Clerk Lisa Crowell in 2010.
“Its such a terrible loss for the entire county,” Smotherman said. “All that history just gone, it will hurt the (Murfreesboro) Square and the downtown business very hard.”