Piccadilly: a mainstay of my dining out options for 44 years

Sally Rheinbolt and Wilma Larkey have worked at the Kingsport Piccadilly since it opened in 1976, and say their customers and co-workers are like family

It’s going to be a long trip if I ever again enjoy a salmon patty, broccoli casserole and carrot souffle meal from a Piccadilly Cafeteria.

With the recent announcement the chain’s Kingsport location, inside Fort Henry Mall since 1976, has closed, the nearest Piccadilly locations appear to be in Nashville, Atlanta and Newport News, Virginia.

In recent years I had not eaten at Piccadilly as often as at other times over the past 44 years. But Mom and I still considered it a regular option. We often got orders to go. I think the line workers and cashiers had long figured out that when I walked in on my cell phone, describing that day’s menu options as I walked from the end of the line to the beginning, and back, that I was running the selection past Mom.

If I’m reading the company’s website correctly, Piccadilly Cafeterias Inc., operates 34 locations in six states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Virginia). Back when Piccadilly came to Kingsport, the chain boasted 61 locations in 12 states (the nearest then was the fairly new location in the Bristol Mall). The Kingsport location was the third opened in Tennessee, following openings in Chattanooga and Memphis.

Piccadilly’s intent to come to Kingsport was announced in an article in the Times News on Sunday, October 26, 1975, as the mall was under construction. They both opened on March 10, 1976. Articles about Piccadilly’s opening here highlighted the chain’s emphasis on catering to families and children, with such features as “rolling high chairs, youth chairs, bibs, ‘satellite plates for Junior Astronauts,’ and excellent food for the entire family.”

“Recipes are our main stock in trade,” T.H. Hamilton said. “Our official and secret file of over 1,000 tested recipes, each copy protected by clear plastic, is ready for our new unit.”

Hamilton was then-chairman of Piccadilly Cafeteria Inc.’s board of directors. The article went on to note variety was a key principle of the Piccadilly concept, with approximately 100 recipes used for an average day’s selection. Salads alone accounted for 25 items per day.

I was 13 years old when the mall opened. Piccadilly, with its two (77-foot) serving lines open what seemed like most of the time, often had a line out the door — especially on weekend nights when the new mall was crowded and on Sundays right after church. My family went often. My favorite items back then were: a lime Jell-O “salad” with pineapple, pecans and cottage cheese; “square” fish or fried chicken for my entree; twice-baked potatoes; and — saving the best for last — Pecan Delight pie for dessert. These remained my go-to items for years.

As I grew older, got a car and began to frequent Piccadillys in Bristol and Johnson City, my tastes expanded and my favorite items from the menu changed. While attending East Tennessee State University and eating more often at the Johnson City location  (in The Mall at Johnson City), my running buddy Tyler Colbaugh and I became devotees of “The Super Dilly” (choice of a salad selection, entree, two veggies, bread and dessert). We both became hooked on “seafood salad,” “broccoli Madeline” (broccoli salad with cheddar cheese, raisins, red onion, bacon, and a mayonnaise-based dressing) and salmon patties.

There were times the place was so crowded we’d have to stand with our full trays waiting for a table to open. Meanwhile, my maternal aunt Ann Manis Addington preferred being driven from Kingsport to the Bristol Mall’s Piccadilly. And my parents and I made a free-standing Piccadilly in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a standard stop going to and returning from Hilton Head.

Two of our favorite Piccadilly employees were there from beginning to end: Sally Rheinbolt and Wilma Larkey both worked at the Kingsport Piccadilly since it opened, and in an article published in the Sunday Stories section of the Times News in 2013, the two said their customers and co-workers were like family.

Speaking for my family and friends, the feeling was mutual toward those two ladies and many other Piccadilly employees through the years.

To be continued ... next time: recipes inspired by some of my Piccadilly favorites.

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