Bill Greene, right, knows most everyone who walks through the doors of Jan Mar and enjoys telling stories and joking with the customers.
Jan Mar Restaurant has been a downtown Kingsport mainstay since April 26, 1953.
Mary and John Greene left the coalfields of Harlan, Ky., and moved to Kingsport looking for a better life and better opportunities. Mary’s sister, Martha Stout, and her husband, Dick, had moved to Kingsport prior to the Greenes. Stout, along with Wallace Boyd, started a grocery store called Oakwood.
The Stouts encouraged the Greenes to move to Kingsport and take over the Southern Café, which had closed the previous year when beer was outlawed from being served in local restaurants. They changed the name to Jan Mar, which according to son, Bill, is French for John and Mary.
Bill started working at the Jan Mar when he was only 9 years old and continued until he turned 16.
"My Dad let me watch him run the cash register," Bill reminisced.
"Burkett McInturff once used a hundred dollar bill to pay for his meal, and that was the first time I had seen a hundred dollar bill," he laughed.
McInturff is a long-time Kingsport attorney who started having his meals at Jan Mar when it opened in 1953. And McInturff, like many other Kingsport residents, continues to frequent the restaurant.
In the last 59 years, not much about the Jan Mar has changed. The restaurant continues to use many of the same recipes Mary Greene perfected all those years ago. Bill’s wife, Pam, added a few recipes over the years, but the majority of the food served today originated with John and Mary Greene.
Bill attributed the Jan Mar’s success to "old-fashioned food with a personal touch." John and Mary Greene worked side-by-side in the restaurant until John’s death in 1973. Mary continued running the restaurant on her own until her health started declining in 1993, at which time Bill rejoined his mother in the restaurant.
Along with the Jan Mar, John Greene also owned and operated Five Points Billiards, where the Habitat Resale Store is located today. John opened the establishment in 1963, which also served as an illegal sports gambling operation. After his father’s death in 1973, Bill continued running Five Points Billiards until he was arrested for professional gambling in 1980 and the establishment was shut down. Bill was originally sentenced to serve three years in the penitentiary, but appealed the conviction. Upon appeal, he was ordered to pay a fine and spend six months in the Sullivan County Jail, with at least one month served in jail and the remainder of the time on work release.
Following his release, Bill and Pam opened their own restaurant, called Greenesleeves on Eastman Road. This restaurant featured old-time soda fountain fare, including hard ice cream, milkshakes, hamburgers and fries. He lost the lease on the building and moved to a downtown location.
Around 1986, Bill met up with a new friend, called "Vodka," which would turn out not to be such a good friend and would also bring ruin to his business and marriage. This relationship lasted a good four years until Bill checked into a Chattanooga rehab facility. He’s been sober since 1990 and reunited with his wife since that time.
"Once I stopped drinking, something started happening to my health just about every year since then," he laughed. A couple of strokes forced Bill into semi-retirement. Today the day-to-day operations of the Jan Mar are handled by his daughter, Anissa. Bill talks to her frequently throughout the day on the telephone and makes his weekly trips on Saturdays to keep up with the business and his friends.
And on those Saturdays, Bill Greene is surrounded by friends he’s known since he was a 9-year-old boy watching his dad run the cash register. He knows most everyone who walks through the doors of Jan Mar and enjoys telling stories and joking with the customers.
Bill Greene has lived a colorful life and has absolutely no regrets - not even the drinking.
"I regret I let it get out of hand, but I got a lot of memories, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve had a good life. I really have."
The Jan Mar is located on Broad Street and is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday.comments powered by Disqus