For almost 100 years, locals have been eating hamburgers and hot dogs at Charlie Joseph’s in downtown LaGrange. In fact, at this point the neighborhood restaurant has become more than a place to eat. It is a tradition.
“Charlie Joseph’s opened in 1920 on Main Street, and they moved over here on Bull Street in ‘46,” owner Steven Keeth said. “It was my great grandfather (that started the restaurant). Charlie Joseph was my great-grandfather, and my great uncle Solomon and my dad and now me. My brother’s kids and my kids have all worked in the restaurant, so we are into the fifth generation.”
Over the years, working at Charlie Joseph’s has become a family tradition.
“If you are in the family, you work here when you are young,” Keeth said. “I started when I was 12, and I’ve been here 32 years. My kids worked here when they were kids. My dad worked here when he was a kid. It is just part of the family tradition. We help each other out.”
The restaurant has also become a community tradition too, and Keeth is glad to see people from the area returning to the restaurant during visits to LaGrange.
“The community has been amazing as far as support over the years,” Keeth said. “When they come to town, they come to eat. They may go see their family, but we know they are coming to eat. When they come back, it is the same. We definitely couldn’t do it without LaGrange.”
He says that he has learned many life lessons from both customers and employees at Charlie Joseph’s over the years.
“(I’ve learned) how to treat people, how to talk to people, what is important to people,” Keeth said. “A lot of people come to eat, and a lot of people come to feel better. They come home when they come here. We try to make people feel comfortable and welcomed. My family and I have tried to create an atmosphere that you can’t find in most places where everyone, no matter who they are, belongs. No matter where they come from, they are a part of somewhere where they can feel comfortable and where they are noticed.”
And people do feel noticed at the restaurant, with servers often asking regulars if they would like their usual order at the normally crowded bar between questions about life and family.
“We are on a first name basis, memorizing what they order, remembering what we talked about last visit, so just from my family, it has become my larger family,” Keeth said. “Most people think the world’s best hot dogs and hamburgers, and that is true, but it is also about trying to make a difference in people’s life. Some people come in, and you can just automatically tell they are not having a good day. We do what we can to try to make a difference in their life. Whether it be a hug, whether it be a prayer, whether it be a smile, whether it be a joke, or something when they walk in the doors, they can forget whatever they had going on.”
The restaurant has grown over the almost 100 years since it opened, and its second location opened on West Point Road in the 1990s and is run by Keeth’s father.
“Now we have two locations, and it has grown,” Keeth said. “They have most of what we have, and we have most of what they have, but there are some small differences as far as what we offer on the menu. This is more so the original menu, and my dad has added a few more items that people want.”
The 100-year anniversary of the restaurant is a little over two years away, but Keeth is already beginning to plan for the celebration.
“We definitely plan on a celebration for our 100th year,” Keeth said. “I know that my dad and my family and his uncle and Charlie Joseph, they only could have imagined that we would still be here, and I hope that we are making them proud and continuing to learn and grow and continue to try to make a difference in the lives of each and every person that comes through the door in some kind of way.”
Ultimately, Keeth hopes that Charlie Joseph’s will continue to be more than just a place to eat.
“Maybe they can’t remember exactly what they ordered, but hopefully they’ll always remember how we made them feel,” Keeth said. “I know for me, as much as we’ve tried to make an impact on people’s lives, in so many ways, they’ve made a difference in mine and the lives of the people who work here. I look forward to seeing anybody who walks through that door because I am given the opportunity to do what I believe God wants me to do, and that is to serve. I think that is what Charlie Joseph’s is all about is family and friendships and good food, and it is about home.”
Charlie Joseph’s Downtown is located at 128 Bull Street and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Charlie Joseph’s at 2238 West Point Road is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.