Wednesday, September 20, 2017  

Lowery's Restaurant: An Everlasting Tappahannock Tradition


It is doubtful that Lorelle and W. Wesley Lowery, Jr. had the makings of a family tradition in mind when they originally opened a snack bar in 1938. Located in the front of a bowling alley on Prince Street in Tappahannock, where Barbour Printing is housed today, it was the beginning of a family legacy, still alive today, 75 years later. Passed to their sons, Rob and William Wesley Lowery and now on to the third generation, to their grandson, Duby Lowery, all have proven their dedication to keeping the Lowery’s dream alive. Their humble beginning started with soups and sandwiches in the front window of a small bowling alley. Six months later and believing they had found a niche in the community, they moved across the street and expanded into their own store, Lowery’s Sundry Store, on the corner of Water Lane and Prince St. in bustling downtown Tappahannock. Operating here through 1945 as a store and kitchen, “Dad proclaimed to carry everything a regular drug store carried, except the drugs,” stated son, William Wesley. With plenty of seating and chefs Lewis Carter and Fred Vaughan, they expanded their soups and sandwiches into an eatery serving delicious meals to locals on a daily basis.

In a manner of ‘branching out’, the Lowerys opened a restaurant on the main drag of Tappahannock in 1942, housed in a building with a real estate office. The Lowerys ran both businesses for a few years but running two businesses was a chore and the restaurant eventually won out over the sundry store. For that, many people are eternally grateful. As one of the very first restaurants in Tappahannock and now celebrating its 75 year anniversary, Lowery’s Restaurant quickly became a Tappahannock tradition and today is considered a prominent landmark to the town. It is known to people of all walks of life, from all states in the US, as a stop over for hungry travelers and locals alike searching for the best seafood, chicken and hot fudge cake for miles and miles.

“Things have changed over the decades and Lowery’s has always kept up with the times”, says grandson, Duby Lowery. In the early days the restaurant shared the building with a real estate office. Into the 1950s, Lowery’s Restaurant was a Greyhound bus station, selling tickets and greeting weary travelers and many US soldiers as well. Lorelle Lowery was the ticket agent. The restaurant was also in the business of selling license plates through the carry out window since there was not a Department of Motor Vehicles at the time. Wesley and Lorelle Lowery took on many hats with the business.

In the early 1950s Mr. and Mrs. Lowery decided to buy into a chicken franchise called Chicken In The Rough, and thus the beginning of their long time relationship with chicken and people near and far came to fruition. Over the years, Wesley Lowery had began using his own pressure fryers and came to the realization that the non-food items they were forced to buy (placemats, plates, napkins, etc.) through the franchise were costing much more than non-franchised paper goods. After about a decade, he ended his partnership with Chicken In The Rough and developed his own chicken empire, All American Chicken, that is still alive, well and fried today at Lowery’s Restaurant. A couple could eat out for $1.25; this is when people started eating out. Lowery’s famous fried chicken is what started the ever popular carry out business.

Today, as always, the carry out window at Lowery’s does a bustling business. “Carry out Manager, Henry Fortune has been with us for over 30 years and does an outstanding job at running the carry out,” says William Wesley. The carry out not only features the restaurants daily lunch and dinner specials but will also add its own special deals of the day. Customers are also able to purchase local seafood such as oysters and steamed crabs through the carry out window when they are in season.

After WWII ended, the real estate office moved out and the Lowerys turned the office area into a pool hall with pool tables, ping pong tables and pinball machines. The Essex Room was born and the restaurant could seat about 80 people in those days. This area eventually gave way to tables and booths as the business grew and expanded. Today Lowery’s can seat about 300 and they have banquet facilities to seat up to 150 comfortably. Once the restaurant started serving seafood in their early days, they became Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant. Their seafood, oysters, crab cakes and fresh fish, became a huge hit with out of town diners and is still a popular mainstay today.

Lowery’s Restaurant is known for many things other than delicious food. Back in the day and into the 21st century it was well known for the unusual antique car collection housed in the rear of the restaurant. Wesley Lowery never owned a car as a youngster. As a surprise for Christmas in the early 60s, his beloved Lorelle gave him a 1931 Model A Ford as a gift. Son Rob commented, “This, along with his life long interest in cars, prompted Dad to become a member of the Fredricksburg Antique Car Association and fueled his desire to own more of the antique cars he loved growing up”. He bought the building next door which was a Keiser-Frazier Packard dealership originally owned by Nathan Parker (June Parker’s father). In 1969, Wesley Lowery parked his first car inside the restaurant, a 1910 Cadillac that he spent years restoring. By 1980, after adding additions to the restaurant and as his love for antique cars was in full swing, Lowery had placed three Model As and a 1926 Chrysler in the rear of the restaurant. These antique cars, along with all of the memorabilia that the Lowerys had accumulated over the years, were an unexpected treat to all visitors either before or after dining in. The majority of the memorabilia remains but the cars have since been sold to make way for the new Captain’s Bar and Grill that opened in the rear of the restaurant in 2011.

Spending decades as a family restaurant and wanting to keep that distinction, grandson, Duby Lowery was the brainchild behind expanding the back of the restaurant a couple of years ago. “We originally opened the Captain’s Grill under a large tent behind the restaurant on the patio with a portable bar, just for summer holidays. It became so popular we had to sell the antique cars to build a bar area inside to satisfy county regulations,” said Duby Lowery, “and we have recently expanded into the next room and have a large dining area and can accommodate special functions as well, it has been a big success,” added Duby. The Captain’s Bar and Grill now advertises sporting event and cocktail specials and has several large screen televisions for all game and race lovers alike.

Lowery’s is known for several more traditions as well. One local tradition being the ever so famous ‘Round Table’ which came to an end when the restaurant decided to cease their daily breakfast operations. The Round Table was a legacy all in itself. It consisted of many local area businessmen gathering for breakfast and coffee in the mornings before heading to work. Besides camaraderie and many boisterous debates, most had the intentions of solving all the worldly and local problems. Rob Lowery said, “You had to have some tough skin to sit at the Round Table, they would tell it like it is”.

For children, the most popular tradition is certainly the fishing well. Started in 1980, many that have fished in the well as children are now sending their own children back to catch the same fish they did as youngsters. After each meal, the waitstaff presents each child with a ‘fishing license’ which is redeemed for a fishing rod with the cashier. The children then go fishing in the well for a variety of fish. Afterwards, they turn their rod and their catch over to the cashier in exchange for a prize from the famed treasure chest. There have been tens of thousands of fish caught in that bottomless fishing well over the past three decades to tens of thousands of children’s delight.

Of course one cannot mention Lowery’s Restaurant without talking about their Mynah birds as well. Mr. and Mrs. Lowery bought their first Mynah bird, Jack, in Florida and kept him at home for years before bringing him to the restaurant in the late 60s. The birds have been a popular attraction ever since. Known for a long life span and their ability to talk, the birds have always been popular with everyone, young and old, to whistle and speak with. Previous birds, besides Jack, have been Jimmy, Jake and now JayBoy. JayBoy has a large repertoire and is usually fairly easy to draw into conversation. William Wesley commented, “No matter what changes are made here, people always ask about the bird first and foremost.”

Another mainstay at Lowery’s Restaurant would be their employees, whom all the Lowerys consider family. The Lowerys speak fondly of long time employee and chef, Fred Vaughan. Vaughan began his career with Lowery’s Restaurant all the way back in 1941 at the original sundry store with Lorelle and Wesley Lowery and was a fixture in his white chef’s uniform until he retired in 1988 - though he was still known to pop in from time to time after retirement. Dedicated employees have never been hard to come by at Lowery’s Restaurant which in the restaurant business is a true statement of respect coming into play on both sides. The Lowery brothers are proud to acknowledge that several have stayed for decades, Ruby Stalnaker (45 years), Mary Lou Roane, Virginia Young, Ella Mae Roane, Lula Belle Washington, James Brown, Marlue Washington, Audrey Miller (30+), William Wright, Mickey Sanders (52 years), Eleanor Williams, Peggy Lewis (42 years), Elsie Davis (62 years), Pam Jones (22 years) and general manager, Arlene Watkins (34+ years), all have centuries of dedication between them. Rob and William Wesley could not say enough nice things about their employees and their management team. “Arlene is the glue that holds everything together at Lowery’s,” commented both brothers. “From the front door to the back door, she and Pam Jones (her able assistant) comprise a team that is good for customers, employees and the foundation of Lowery’s Seafood Restaurant. They are a team that is dedicated to customer satisfaction and employee morale.” says William Wesley. It is apparent the Lowerys think very highly of their hard working employees. They themselves have dedicated their lives to the restaurant and its success. William Wesley has been on the floor since 1963 and Rob remembers beginning work slicing potatoes at age 13 and neither has ever left. Becoming part of the family business is just what is expected when the business is so successful and parents are so devoted to their passion. Wesley Lowery worked long days and nights until 1975 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away two years later in 1977. Lorelle Lowery worked well into her 80s, retiring around 2001 and she passed away in 2008.  It is evident that the Lowery family was fortunate to have such positive roll models with such big dreams to look up to for guidance.

Lowery’s Restaurant is not only well known for its fabulous seafood, delicious home cooked meals/desserts, buckets of chicken, antique cars, fishing well, talking birds and  dedicated employees but also as a true Tappahannock family institution that has served us proudly for over seven decades. With the third generation of Lowery taking the helm, Duby Lowery is sure to continue forward and carry on the family traditions and successes that his grandparents unknowingly began so long ago.

Lowery’s is located at 528 Church Lane in Tappahannock and is open seven days a week, Monday thru Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and they open at 8 a.m. for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. The Captain’s Grill is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until closing. To enter the grill, just park behind Lowery’s and enter through the patio doors or relax under the tent at one of the many outdoor tables. Please call 443-2800 for specials or to place a carry out order to be picked up at the carry out window and like them on facebook for daily lunch and dinner specials.