It was only a matter of time.
I have eaten at this Piccadilly Cafeteria literally hundreds of times over the years. Back in the day this place was crazy busy with hungry patrons. Another Piccadilly, in midtown, was also jammed with business. The food was good. The prices were reasonable.
I ate here when it was Morrison’s Cafeteria, before Piccadilly bought them out. Piccadilly and Morrison’s were all over the southeast. My grandparents would take us out to eat at one in Mobile when I was very young. My grandmother would always spill something on the front of her dress. Literally, always.
As a matter of routine, she began using her napkin, tucked under her neckline, as a bib. She would just laugh, “Look at what a mess I am! But it tastes magnannygocious!” My grandfather would always catch the eye of his favorite waiter, who carried the trays for you to the table, and would tip him 25¢ or more for a larger party. The waiters were always older black men, and in those days, the white people didn’t tip them anything, didn’t even act like they existed. My grandfather thought this was very wrong. Wonderful memories of my grandparents—deeply principled people who, while they had little, shared it generously.
But. Things change. The recipes changed1. The food wasn’t as tasty. The number of people working was reduced.
In the 1990’s, while eating at the midtown location with a friend, we saw a rat run across the floor. My friend, in horror, told the manager, who replied, “So?!” People stopped eating there. About a year later this location was reduced to a small fraction of its original size2. A couple of years later, the midtown location closed. The location on North Druid Hills road remained busy. I never saw any rats there.
Upon returning to Atlanta after my 8 year Pacific coast hiatus, the Piccadilly on North Druid Hills had very few patrons. I wondered how they stayed in business. On one of our first return visits, the waitress, visibly shaken, told us they would need to let us out (unlock the front doors) when we left. “Really? Why? Are we here that late?” They and the customers from the night before had been robbed at gun point. No one was hurt.
I heard rumors Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta bought the whole corner: a church, an old mid-rise3, and the Piccadilly. The people who worked at the Piccadilly vigorously denied this. I think it is true.
After hearing of the robbery, we ate at the North Druid Hills location a few more times, but we didn’t feel safe. The last time we ate here, we said it would be our last. A guy was acting much too suspiciously. He was constantly walking around, looking around, and not for the steak sauce. He hung out around the cash register. The cashier was obviously nervous. The manager began following him around the restaurant.
We had finished eating, but I told Steve we weren’t leaving yet. When another patron, oblivious to what was going on, got up to leave, I said, “Now. We’re leaving now.” Strength in numbers. We never went back.
Sad to see Piccadilly Cafeteria die a slow death, closing one restaurant at a time. But people today don’t seem to want to eat this type of food, which I love in part because it reminds me of my childhood. Patrons certainly don’t want to feel the food is prepared in a nasty environment. And they don’t want to be robbed at gun point while they dine.