published Friday, February 19th, 2010

Bea's recipe unaltered after 60 years

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    Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press A variety of meats, entrees, vegetables, rolls and a desert can always be found on the lazy susan at Bea's Restaurant, but fried chicken is probably the most popular item.

After six decades, there's still a buzz about Bea's. Each day, the dining room is packed with loyal patrons. The staff knows most of them by name. Newcomers come through the door as well, wanting to try the Bea's experience.

This year, Bea's Restaurant celebrates its 60th birthday. Opened by Bill and Beatrice Steele in 1950, the eatery continues operation in its original location, still serving food the old-fashioned way -- on a large lazy Susan that whirls around the table, offering diners fried chicken sweet tea and other Southern favorites using many of Mrs. Steele's original recipes.

Nothing's changed much through the years, though when it first opened, people could get an all-you-can-eat meal for 75 cents -- it's now $9.99 for adults, $8.99 for seniors over 55. Youngsters eat at a reduced prices. It's a family place.

"I have heard people say they could even get a meal for 50 cents," said Doug Bradshaw, the Steele's grandson who now runs the restaurant with son Dusty, brother Mike and Mike's sons Stacey and Bryan. Following the Steeles' retirement, their daughter and son-in-law, Bernice and H.L. Bradshaw, took over until their sons -- Doug and Mike -- could take charge.

It's a four-generation business that keeps the family busy.

"It's more demanding on us than our marriages," Doug Bradshaw said. "Thank God we all have understanding wives."

The restaurant opened as a small establishment -- just one dining room with a handful of tables and an apartment on the second floor where the Steeles lived for a while.

ENTER LAZY SUSAN

When Bea's first opened, the East Lake neighborhood in which it is located, was a solid middle-class area. There were manufacturing plants all around, such as Chris-Craft, and workers needed a place where they could have a quick lunch.

"So Bea and Bill put in the lazy Susans for the plant workers to get them in and out in 30 minutes," Doug Bradshaw said.

The tables look the same, though the Formica tops have been replaced with new Formica and the lazy Susans now sport sneeze guards -- state law. But the condiments arranged on the top shelf of the lazy Susans are the same -- jars of Tabasco peppers, chopped onions, pickled beets, chow-chow and hot sauce alongside pitchers of water and freshly brewed tea. And the main shelf is always filled with food that keeps coming hot from the kitchen as long as you want it.

"My first 'date' was at Bea's," said Chattanooga resident Tina Harvey Crawford. "I was in the fifth grade. We went to church, then Bea's. You gotta love a lazy Susan."

Not much has been added to the menu through the years -- just strawberry cobbler when berries are in season.

"And we started doing fried catfish on Friday nights," Doug Bradshaw said. "We don't change a whole lot."

But one thing hasn't changed: It's all made from scratch, starting at 5 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

"The recipes were in place when we got here," Mike Bradshaw said. "And along the way, they were smart enough not to mess with them."

NEAR AND FAR

Although Bea's is off the beaten path, its popularity brings people from around the city, and its reputation brings out-of-towners to its nondescript building.

Atlantan Frank Staples grew up in Chattanooga, but continues to eat at Bea's whenever he comes home. "Usually I go there before I go to my family's house," he said, adding that it's the barbecue and fried chicken that draws him in.

"The food is just like going to Grandma's house for dinner," he said. "I just hope they're around for another 60 years, or at least as long as I'm alive."

And Doug Bradshaw recalls a trip to Alaska where he met a man who made a remark about the hat he was wearing:

"It was a Bea's cap, and that man said, 'Bea's! I know Bea's. I've eaten there before.' All the way up there in Alaska."

"We're not downtown where the grant and tax money is going," he said. "It's our customer loyalty. That says a lot. They have to go by five or 10 other good restaurants to get here.

"If you're looking for fancy -- this is not the place. But by God, we've got good food and a lot of it."

About Bea's

* Opened by Bill and Beatrice Steele in 1950

* Now under fourth generation of family ownership

* Still prepares everything served from scratch daily, starting at 5 a.m.

* Serves 4,000 pounds of fried chicken each week, using the original recipe.

* Serves an average of 150 gallons of fresh-brewed tea daily.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Now into the fourth generation, Bea and Bill Steele's great-grandson Dusty Bradshaw says he never thought about working anyplace else.

"I graduated from college and always knew I wanted to come back here," he said.

"It's all they ever wanted to do," Doug Bradshaw said of his son and nephews. "And that's something I'm really proud of. I think Bea and Bill would be speechless about what we've done here. Never in their wildest dreams would they believe we're still here after 60 years. We'd like to think they'd be real proud to see what we've done and how we do it."

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enufisenuf said...

The food is OK, but the price has driven me away.I mean, it's the same stuff every day, so once a month isn't boring, but the price is a bit on the steep side for me.

February 19, 2010 at 2:27 a.m.

"The food is OK, but the price has driven me away.I mean, it's the same stuff every day, so once a month isn't boring, but the price is a bit on the steep side for me."

I don't think you eat there very often, as it isn't the same stuff everyday. But since this is the internet you can say whatever you like, and it doesn't have to be true. Personally I have been eating there before I was born. My mom and dad would take us as kids back in the early sixties. I even worked there one summer as a teenager in the seventies...

They have actually gone down in price, so your argument doesn't hold much weight. I work over in East Ridge and we eat there at least once a week. At around ten dollars for everything including dessert and tea, it is a good deal for us. I think they are giving away birthday meals too now, but you might want to find out for sure.

Anyway, Happy Anniversary guys and congrats!

February 19, 2010 at 7:11 a.m.
bulldog said...

I fully agree with shootinfromthehip's remark. To me Bea's is the best place to eat in the area. Matter a fact, I don't even know of a better place if your are looking for good quality country cooking. I have been eating there for over thirty years myself and will keep going as long as I am able to go. I've watched Doug and Mike's kids grow up and been around them quite a bit. They all are great people. Bea's is a great place for a family to go and just relax. They don't have to act like they care about their customers, they do care and it shows. I guess if you want "ok": food and "ok" service maybe you shouldn't go there. I have never been not even one time that the food or the service wasn't up to par. Going to Bea's is just like being with family. Happy anniversary, happy to be a customer and proud to be your friend.

February 19, 2010 at 8:35 a.m.
redbearded said...

shootin... I don't think you eat there very often, as it isn't the same stuff everyday. But since this is the internet you can say whatever you like, and it doesn't have to be true. Personally I have been eating there before I was born.

First, it IS pretty much the same menu EVERY day, maybe a cobbler or fried catfish thrown in at times. Second, the price is pretty high for a helpyourself diner, even if they do come around and re-stock the platters. I love the food, though, and try to get there when I'm in town. third, eating there since before you were born is quite a stretch, but I can bet what your rationale is, so I won't even ask.

February 19, 2010 at 8:39 a.m.
Musicman375 said...

mmmmm... Bea's is some good eatin' Congrats on your continued success!

February 19, 2010 at 8:49 a.m.
enufisenuf said...

SHootin, think what you want tbut the majority of the people I know who have ate there share my opinion, maybe you have no life and would recognize doo if you stepped in it, but I don't care that much for Beas, my money is better spent elsewhere. Cry on SHootin, maybe if ya looked down the sights you would have a more focused, informed view of things.

February 19, 2010 at 9:32 a.m.

I've been thinging about going to Bea's. Yep. I'll be there soon. Looking forward to spinning the wheel of fortune as Garry Mac once often said.

February 19, 2010 at 9:38 a.m.
valleyrider said...

It IS possible to eat there before you were born. When my wife was carrying our first child, we ate there weekly and every time we went to the doctor, and we always thought that is probably responsible for his being a 10 pound baby.

February 19, 2010 at 9:56 a.m.
nooganative said...

Wow. It's hard believe that a wonderful story of family success and "shootin" defending the restaurant after a negative comment from "enuf" prompted such a childish response. Chattanoogans are better than that. You should be ashamed of yourself for your attitude "enuf". If you want to get hateful with people, why dont you do it face to face instead of hiding behind a computer? Keeping a business open for 60 years is unbelieveable particularly when its a small family business. In order to stay open for that length of time you have to assume that the business is successful enough to provide for their families which means there are a lot of folks who dont agree with you "enuf". Bea's is fantastic! Congrats and many more years of success!

February 19, 2010 at 10:38 a.m.
enufisenuf said...

OK noog, where ya want to meet? Not at Beas, can't afford the same old food. It is amazing how thinskinned people like you are when a viewpoint is not like yours. You must be a good ol brainwashed, cult worshippin, liberal christian hypocrite. The problem today is poeople like you who want to be patted on the head and told everything is OK, ewven if it isn't. Your attitude is the reason this country is going down the tubes, but your not smart enuf to see it.Post a phone number, I'll call ya to meet unless your one of those that can't meet one on one ahd has to have a whole entourage.

February 19, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Wow! This is all kinda funny... borderline entertaining! Playground at three thirty sound good?

As for the subject of this story, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of eating at Bea's the few times that I have been. I thought the food was good, and the whole idea of a giant lazy-susan loaded with jive for my face stuffing pleasure added an entertianing novelty. Good for Bea's!

February 19, 2010 at 11:27 a.m.
nooganative said...

Once again, proving your worth. Read your post one more time...then continue insulting my intellegence. I would pass on meeting you anywhere because I wouldnt want to destroy what little brain function you have left. I have no problem with other viewpoints and absolutely no problem with your viewpoint. I just think people like you who hide behind a computer and abuse the internet by spewing hateful comments and talking trash to other people could use a little dose of reality. I also think that newspapers should stop protecting your identity while you do it. Have a good weekend.

February 19, 2010 at 11:29 a.m.
enufisenuf said...

Talk about keyboard courage. Your a flake and a fraud Nooganut, all mouth till called on the carpet. My assessment was dead on. You had a chance to practice what you preach, but turns out you lack the courage to come out form behind your keyboard. Rality? you are more in need of it than most people I meet on a daily basis. Reality scares people like you, as I would if you hadn't wet your self when faced with the reality of meeting an honest, up front, no BS person like myself. Change your depends and shut your piehole till you have the courage to practice what you preach dummy. Beas is OK food but not worth the price.

February 19, 2010 at 12:33 p.m.
nooganative said...

Ill be at Big River downtown tonight. Ill come outside the main door at 9 sharp and see if I find you there to have a "chat". Gut check time.

February 19, 2010 at 1:37 p.m.
enufisenuf said...

Not available till 10, and I don't drink, got tired of all the loosers in bars. Gee, I thought you would have had the guts to give out your number after all the mouthin you did cause someone didn't agree with your opinion of Beas.Keyboard bully, go beat your chest and feel good about your stupidity. Grow up dude, freedom of speech still happens, even if it hurts peoples feelings. Send your phone number and we'll set up a meeting place at my convienence, I have too much to do to run after all the crybabies who can't handle reality. Tell ya what you go to bea, eat the same old expensive food and when you get some stones, post your number. I f I come again to the site, I'll hollar at ya, if not, life sucks for you.

February 19, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

I heard Leonard Pitts Jr. talking today about how polarized and angry we're becoming, willing to issue opinions and denounce others when we really should be kind to one another. And I don't mean just pollyanna, agree-with-anything, because we can disagree about whether a restaurant is great or merely good without coming to blows over it. We're all worthy of respect, and that means deference sometimes to others' viewpoints. Let's take a step back and a deep breath, and love ourselves and each other. To turn the other cheek, in the words of a wise teacher.

February 19, 2010 at 5:12 p.m.
enufisenuf said...

I would rather hate the idiot who wants to condem the one who disagrees with anything other than their own narrow minded opinion. That what makes for change and not the Obama misconception. I choose not to be a pacifist, no satisfaction in that. But the cause will have to be better than some nut job who wants to get beat because someone doesn't like the same over priced boring resturant as him. I suppose if I didn't like McDonalds, Wendys, Arby's or any other place he would want to start a gang war? Not all are worthy of respect, take the government for example.

February 20, 2010 at 7:56 a.m.
grandmastaj said...

How in the world did this turn into a political discussion? Couldn't find Rush anywhere on Saturday?

February 22, 2010 at 8:15 a.m.
schadowmt said...

I like eating at Bea's from time to time. But there are others that love to eat there all the time. Some ppl like change some don't ..alas that's USA for ya. That is why there are so many different places to eat. Y'all have a great day

February 26, 2010 at 6:08 a.m.
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