Daily photos by John Godbey|
Something on the Square owner Michelle Stewart moved her restaurant from Moulton to Hillsboro. Train crews call orders in to the restaurant, which is near the railroad tracks.
in a new location
Something on the Square finds a home in Hillsboro
By Deangelo McDaniel
HILLSBORO — An eastbound train rolled to a stop near Lawrence County 400.
The aroma of Philly steak and cheese, chicken alfredo and brownie pie a la mode wafted through the air.
Unable to resist, a railroad worker walked inside and told the restaurant owner he would be back.
“I asked him where he had parked, and he said, ‘On the tracks,’ ” Michelle Stewart recalled. “He took a menu, and sometimes when the train is about 20 minutes away, they call in an order.”
Something on the Square, an eatery Stewart first opened in Moulton in 1998, has reopened in Hillsboro.
Far away from square
She’s in a tiny building that is about as far away as possible from the county square in Moulton while remaining in Lawrence County.
But when you have good food, as Stewart is learning, patrons will follow you regardless of location.
Some may view her decision to locate near the railroad tracks as a bad business decision. But consider this.
Stewart fills between 200 and 250 delivery orders per day, mostly at plants on the Tennessee River. The plates average about $6 each. She has another 25 to 50 walk-in customers.
She delivers in Moulton on Friday, where her signature pretzel salad is a customer favorite.
“You know, I didn’t know what pretzel salad was until someone in Moulton requested it,” Stewart said.
The overhead is low because she has three helpers and what she calls “reasonable rent.”
As for the taste of the food, ask Ed Sims, a salesman from Louisiana and frequent visitor to the Hillsboro restaurant. He met Stewart when she was sales manager at the Holiday Inn in Decatur.
“I called on her one day and they said she had gone and opened her own restaurant,” Sims said.
Sims visited and tried several items on the menu.
“When I landed on the chicken salad, I fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s great. You can’t get this just anywhere.”
Stewart was surprised.
“I guess you can say I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere, but I’m following a dream, and I love what I am doing,” she said.
Something on the Square owner Michelle Stewart cuts brownies while Chasity Clark washes the dishes.
She never thought about owning a restaurant while growing up in Indiana.
“We had family gatherings, but my mother never allowed me in the kitchen,” she said.
The older of two children, she did work at a local roast beef chain.
But the high school cheerleader thought she might do something relating to sports.
Stewart married and moved to Lawrence County, where her ex-husband had a sister.
A dream is born
She worked at a steakhouse in Moulton. While catering a going-away party for a fellow employee, the idea of opening her restaurant was born.
“I used my own stuff to make the food,” Stewart recalled. “After that, my friends encouraged me to open a restaurant.”
Something on the Square was reality in the fall of 1998. Stewart opened the restaurant in an old grocery store building on the square in Moulton.
A friend named the restaurant.
“I told her I needed a catchy name to go with something on the square because that’s where I was located,” Stewart said. “It was that simple. We had the name.”
She served menu samples to visitors during Moulton’s Christmas open house in 1998. The response was overwhelming and she opened for business in November.
Award winning items
Several menu items won awards, including the candy apple pie that took grand-prize honors in Moulton’s annual apple sample.
In 2001, however, she sold the business and managed the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Florence for a year.
She worked two other jobs before passing the Hillsboro building.
Jean Bell, who lives behind the building, told Stewart her parents were willing to rent the facility. Bell’s parents had used the place for a restaurant.
Before deciding on the Hillsboro location, Stewart tried unsuccessfully to broker a deal with a Moulton business owner.
Tammy Bruton worked for Stewart in the Moulton restaurant and agreed to help her in Hillsboro.
“We’ve been friends for a long time, and I thought she had lost her mind when she showed me where she was going to locate,” Bruton said.
“But it’s worked out fine. We cook more food here than we did in Moulton.”
Her menu is eclectic: chicken club, grilled reuben and a taco salad. The candy apple pie, a recipe Stewart’s grandmother used, is a combination of apples and pecan pie. It’s a menu favorite.
But even if it isn’t on the menu, Stewart will cook it. About two weeks ago, for example, a plant on the river requested lasagna and she cooked it.
Bruton wasn’t surprised.
“Michelle can cook anything,” she said.
Explaining her decision to cook items not on the menu, Stewart said: “This is a second chance for me. I want to make the best of it, and the best way to do that is to have happy customers.”
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