MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Clang, ding and bong!
It’s an alarm clock shattering the early morning quiet telling Sam Booth it’s time for his boots to hit the floor and his wife, Beth Booth, to brew a fast hot cup of coffee.
As they hit their home’s front door on the run, its 2:30 a.m. on a Monday as their community is yawning itself awake as another workweek begins.
The Booths play a large role in the unincorporated Bradyville community’s morning routine.
They are the ones who prepare breakfasts and coffee, professionally, for dozens of early-morning customers at Parsley’s Store, located on the heavily traveled John Bragg Highway, an artery leading store patrons to and from jobs in nearby Woodbury, Murfreesboro, Manchester, Watertown, McMinnville, Smyrna, La Vergne and Nashville.
But don’t let the title country grocery anesthetize you. It’s not your typical sleepy, laid-back rural store of yesteryear.
It’s a launching pad to get to work sites for dozens of folks from Cannon, Rutherford, Coffee, DeKalb, Wilson and Warren counties going to day jobs scattered throughout Middle Tennessee.
“Our workday begins before the customers’ workday,” Beth Booth said. “We get here at 3 a.m. and open the store doors at 4 a.m. pronto. Most of our customers are traveling toward Murfreesboro and Nashville, but a few in the early morning are coming back toward McMinnville and Woodbury for jobs.”
Working people need a solid breakfast to face a workday, most physicians diagnose.
“We put the biscuits in the oven at least 30 minutes before the first customer comes through the door at 4 a.m.,” Sam Booth said as he slammed the oven door shut for another heaping pan of biscuits to bake.
How big of a pre-dawn breakfast crowd does Parsley’s draw? Enough that one can hardly see Sam Booth's ball cap and busy head behind the growing pile of bacon atop his cook stove’s warmer.
The first customer through the door this recent Monday morning didn’t say a word. Neither did the Booths as they were busy cooking.
“I always know he wants a hot biscuit and sausage,” Beth Booth said. “He grabs his biscuit, gets a hot cup of coffee, and seldom says a word to us. He just pays the cashier at the front of the store.”
“He’s generally our first customer of the day, and doesn’t like to talk much in the early morning,” said cashier Amber Hoffman, formerly an employee of a Smyrna eatery. “I’ve worked here since February, He’s never uttered a word, just gets his biscuit and coffee, pays and he’s out the door. We think he works at Nissan in Smyrna.”
The next customer came through the door at 4:07 a.m.
“I work at Bridgestone/Firestone in La Vergne, but some days I have to go the other direction on days I’m assigned to the tire plant in Warren County,” Jeff Appleby said, as he secured a jazzed up flavored cup of java to go.
There’s a stark contrast between the store’s breakfast crowd and the lunch bunch.
“I eat lunch here just about every day,” said Ben Cates, one of numerous retirees who frequent Parsley’s for their noon meal.
Retired educator Cates said he can’t decide whether it’s “the fellowship or the food” that regularly attracts him to Parsley’s.
“I come at least two days a week,” Cates said. “It’s 50/50 whether it’s the food or catching up on the latest conversation. I do enjoy visiting with regular diner Robert A. Harris, a legend in his own time from his coaching girls at Cannon County High School. He always had a good, competitive basketball team.”
The noon meal is when Carolyn Burnett takes over as the chief cook of our country vittles and duties, said store regular Bobby Womack.
“It’s nothing for Carolyn (Burnett) to work a 16-hour shift and never complain one word," Womack said. “I think that’s why customers and fellow workers alike take a shine to her, for she’s always courteous and one heck of a cook and bottle washer.”
Cates piled on more praise Burnett, saying “She takes pride in what she does, and when my mother (the late Mary Dee Ready Cates) wanted to come to Parsley’s for one of her birthdays, I asked her if she could make one of her famous coconut cream pies and she did. Mother loved it, especially when she found out Carolyn (Burnett) made it special for her.”
Womack described some of his favorite meals.
“We all love the catfish on Fridays, but I’m partial to Thursdays when she has fried pork shops, white beans, fried okra and a slice of onion," he said.
Many of her lunchtime customers are regulars.
“Fridays, which is fish day, is likely our biggest day,” Burnett said. “No, I don’t get tired of what I do. I love the kitchen, and I adore my regular customers. I guess you can say I love my job ... I’ve been here 18 years now.”
How much fish goes out through the store’s serving window on a given Friday?
“At least 20 pounds, and for special customers, we’ll throw in a frog leg or two if given advance notice,” she said between servings of catfish and pones of cornbread to former state Rep. John Hood and Cannon Courier editor Mike West.
Assistant kitchen cook Vickie Patterson has been slamming plate lunches out the serving window nearly two decades.
“I must like working here. I’ve been serving food now for nine years,” Patterson said, as she slathered a hefty layer of gravy atop a piece of beef. “And I can’t tell you how many pounds of fried okra go out this window. We’re talking hundreds of pounds over a nine-year period.”
The store is owned by threesome Jeff St. John, the manager, plus brothers Ben “Boomer” Womack and Rob Womack.
The original store was owned and operated by their uncle Danny Parsley, said Bobby Womack, the Womack brothers' father. “We lost Danny (Womack) to cancer, and the community still misses him a lot.”
A remembrance picture of Danny Parsley hangs on the store wall beneath a sign that reads: “We don’t keep secrets.”
Pass the platter of catfish, please.