Newman’s Café was a Popular Sevierville Eatery
“The only time we were ever separated was the two years he was in the Army” said Alf Newman, while reminiscing about his older brother, John. The two were business partners in downtown Sevierville for over forty years.
The brothers grew up in Kodak and Catlettsburg (commonly called Cobtown). They were sons of Luther and Lucy Bales Newman. John was born in 1919 and Alfred, who has been called Alf all of his life, came along in 1921.
In December of 1945, when John returned home from World War ll, he and Alf decided to go into business together.
John and Alf Newman’s first business venture was a taxi company which was located on Bruce Street. While recalling the early days of their cab company, Alf said, “Fred Atchley and Earnest Connor let us put a telephone in the office of Atchley-Connor Motor Company and I could put the phone up over door when they were closed. We paid $1600 for a new Pontiac and $1400 for a nearly new Chevrolet. By 1949 we had a fleet of five cars
As John and Alf’s business grew, so did their needs to cover more routes and for more drivers. Alf stated, “In those days a local fare anywhere around town was a quarter. We picked up school children in McMahan Addition and Love Addition and hauled them to school and back for 25 cents a day. We had several good drivers who worked for us such as J. S. Elledge, H.V. Latham, Dwane Romines, Junior Randles, Charlie “Bub” Sims and others. Some of ‘em later became millionaires”
J.S. Elledge recalls working as a cab driver for John and Alf. “We had a good time in those days. Men who lived around town, such as J.B. Waters, John Temple and Luther Newman would gather in the evenings, sit around and talk about the good old days. We had no problems, it was a good time. I enjoyed working for both of them,” commented Elledge.
After ten years, the taxi business began to slow down and the Newman brothers decided to try their hand at operating a restaurant. At public auction in 1956, they purchased the building at 109 Bruce Street which was formally called The Sandwich Shop and operated by Lee and Bessie Douglas.
John developed excellent culinary skills while in the army, where he served as mess sergeant. Alf possessed the congenial personality necessary to work with customers. Together the two brothers operated the popular eating establishment known as Newman’s Café for 30 years.
“John could make a lemon pie with a meringue that would stand up even after it was cut” recalled Alf. In every sense of the word, Newman’s Café was a family restaurant featuring a choice of meats, vegetables and desserts daily. Lucy Newman, mother of John and Alf was cashier and Alf’s wife, Jean waited tables. John’s wife, Wanda, split her time between teaching school and helping out in the restaurant.
Alf remembers many loyal customers who frequented the restaurant and what it was like to work in downtown Sevierville. He said “Skip Trotter, announcer for WSEV radio station had breakfast with us every morning we were open. Lonas Ayers was a regular who became a good friend and business partner. Everybody knew everybody in Sevierville in those days and it was just a good place to be. The railroad track ran right up through Bruce Street back then.
Recalling downtown Sevierville when Newman’s Café was in business, he remarked, “Our town was a Saturday town. Everybody came out on Saturday and when it rained. The pool room, down the street, would be full of people on rainy days.
Town was also very crowded on election night. Sometimes it would take them all night to count the votes. So, we’d stay open all night. We stayed open all night on Halloween too, partly for the convenience of customers and partly to watch the place. Lynn Hatcher and Mason Ogle were the policemen back then. They always kept everything running smooth.”
While operating the restaurant, Alf was a member of the Sevierville Fire Department. When the alarm sounded, he was out the door to help put out the fire.
Kate Stinnett worked as a waitress at Newman’s Café for 31 years. “They were always good employers. I went to work there in 1957 and stayed until they closed in’88. Alf used to tell everybody that he’d have to sell the place to get rid of me. I did get upset a few times and head for the door, but Alf would always tell me to go home and take an aspirin and come back tomorrow which I did” recalled Kate.
Alf was also interested in politics. He supported James H.”Jimmy” Quillen when he first ran for congressman in 1962. Quillen faced four formable candidates in the Republican Primary for the seat which had become vacant upon the death of Rep. B. Carroll Reece. Alf activity campaigned for Quillen, allowing him to use Newman’s Café as his Sevier County headquarters.
Eventually, Alf became involved in real estate, primarily through connections made in the restaurant. He stated “I’ve often said that I made a good living in the restaurant business but made my money selling real estate. Every dollar I made selling real estate, I gave John fifty cents.”
In 1986, at the age of 67, John Newman passed away. Alf kept the restaurant open for two years after his brother’s death.
Alf Newman did not sit down when he sold the restaurant in 1988. He serves on Tennessee State Bank Board of Directors and has remained active in real estate. Alf is a 32nd degree Mason and a deacon at Alder Branch Baptist Church, where he has been a member since 1934. In 2002, he was the recipient of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award.
Alf was married to Jean McMahan Newman for over fifty years. Jean passed away in 2009 after suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. He has one son, Alfred T. Newman, from his first marriage. His son lives in Newport, Tennessee and is a United Methodist minister.
Born February 14, 1921, Alf will be 90 years old tomorrow. He is surrounded by a devoted family which includes his niece and her husband, Johnnie Faye and John McClure, and her children, Travis McCroskey and Tonya Kenner. He continues to enjoy his long and prosperous life.