When Life gives you Lemons

Three decades in, Taste of Lemon has become a LaGrange staple

By Daniel Evans
The LaGrange Daily News

Betty Daniel said if she had to name her restaurant today, she’d probably choose a different one than she gave it 36 years ago. However, the uniqueness of the name Taste of Lemon — now nearing its fourth decade in operations — sets the scene for a special experience, unlike any you can find elsewhere in Troup County.

The restaurant is housed in the old First Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and its environment is much like a religious setting — welcoming and friendly.

“They told me it wasn’t worth anything except for a warehouse, but we decided it would be a good location,” said the 91-year-old Daniel. “I happened to come by here one day and the sign was put up — right over here — [saying it was] for sale. That’s how we ended up getting this location. It’s a very convenient location.”

The building’s history hangs on the wall near the register. It was researched by historian Clark Johnson and can be traced all the way back to 1889, when the First Methodist Episcopal Church, South — now known as the First Methodist Church of LaGrange — began an outreach to the workers of the LaGrange Cotton Mills.

In 1892, the mission led to the creation of a separate church, which was named Second Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The church building, which now houses Taste of Lemon, was originally located on the corner of Addie Street and Hines Street. In present day, that area has been altered by Lafayette Parkway.

The building was dedicated in 1893, and by 1906 had changed its name to St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The name changed a few more times over the years, but the final change came in 1967 when the Methodist Church merged with United Brethren.

After that, the building was used for S&T Furniture Store from 1976-1980. Richard and Betty Daniel moved the building twice after that. The church building was originally moved in the exact spot the city wanted to construct the on-ramp from Morgan Street to East Depot Street, and that’s how it ended up in its present location.

“I never thought about running a restaurant. I just thought we’d do the antiques. We did do gifts and things like that,” Daniel said. “I tried to rent this building out to have a restaurant. Nobody would do it, so I said I will.”

Daniel’s antique business at the time was called The Lemon Tree, so that’s how Taste of Lemon got its name. She said the original reputation was that it was a “little old ladies place,” but that’s changed.

“The day we opened, we had some men who came by that wanted to eat, but they were outside. We really hadn’t opened the doors, but there was so many women that the men decided they just wouldn’t stay,” Daniel said. “I laughingly say that it took us 10 years for the men to find out what the women already knew.”

The restaurant serves southern style cooking and is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The menu usually consists of some variety of fried pork chops, chicken pot pie, hamburger steak, baked chicken, meatloaf and a ham and swiss quiche.

Vegetable options often include carrots, rutabagas, lima beans, creamed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pineapple casserole, macaroni and cheese, peas, okra, green beans, turnip greens, corn and cabbage.

Donna Close, Daniel’s daughter, has been working for the restaurant for about 20 years. She said customers enjoy the vegetable plate, country fried steak and fried pork chops.

“We have people from out of town who make a point to come through here at lunch time,” Daniel said.

Close taught school in LaGrange for many years before leaving to work in the restaurant. She said she plans to retire “shortly,” noting that she doesn’t plan to work as long as Daniel did.

“That was one of the questions I was going to ask you,” Daniel said. “What do we want to do?”

Close said that whenever she does decide to hang up her apron, “we’ll face that when the time comes.”

Close said her children might have an interest in running the restaurant one day.

“I think my children probably do. They are interested,” Close said. “I think they would like to keep it open.”

When the restaurant first moved to its location, the parking deck on Broome Street wasn’t there, and neither was the theatre or downtown hotel. A lot has changed, but one thing has stayed the same — Taste of Lemon is serving southern style lunch during the week.

As Daniel said, they are decades in “and still going strong.”

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