FRANKLIN, Ohio – It all started 40 years ago, when Hilda Ratliff was a newly divorced mother of two.
On a normal day she’d walk two houses down to the local restaurant for a cup of coffee.
One day she arrived, and, in a sense, she never left.
It turned out the owner needed help, so Hilda started getting other people coffee. And, when the business became too difficult, the owner of the restaurant sold everything to Hilda for $1,500.
Cups. Plates. Everything.
Hilda became owner of Mom’s Restaurant.
Now in its 40th year, Mom’s Restaurant has changed locations, but its people – and the food – have never been better.
Hilda Ratliff was raised near Hazard, Ky., and it didn’t take long before she wished to spread her wings.
Growing up she’d hoe corn and pick strawberries. And after graduating high school, she received $82 in cash for the achievement.
“It was more money than I’d ever seen in my life,” she says. “So I took my $82, my luggage – which was two grocery bags – and I left. I swore I’d never hoe corn or pick strawberries or wash dishes ever again.”
She headed north, and settled in Red Lion, Ohio, about 40 minutes northeast of Cincinnati. She married and had two children.
Of course, she kept her Kentucky influences close by.
Hanging above the fireplace at home was a 16-inch by 20-inch picture of Cawood Ledford.
After a while, Hilda decided to bring that picture into the restaurant.
“I just needed a better spot for it,” she says. “So I brought it in.”
Other UK fans started to bring in pictures and gifts, too, and slowly the restaurant became an oasis for Big Blue fans in Ohio and Northern Kentucky, completely decorated in UK memorabilia.
But why UK?
“I’ve always been a fan, and UK basketball is everything in Kentucky,” she says. “I always say I’m American by the grace of God but Kentuckian by birth.”
HANG YOUR MUG
Due to local construction, after 37 years, Mom’s Restaurant moved from its first location in nearby Red Lion to its current location on Ohio 123, next to the BP gas station in Franklin. That was three years ago.
Now Hilda, 74, and her 100-seat restaurant are still cookin’.
Besides the UK memorabilia, a customer will notice the 1,000 mugs lining the walls. They harken back to the beginning, Hilda says, when local police would hang their mugs up and use them upon return. Customers can do the same thing today.
Former Bengal and Kentucky great Doug Pelfrey actually owns the gas station/convenience store/restaurant complex and will show up from time to time. Celebrities like Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Joe B. Hall have also visited.
“I had my picture taken with Joe B.,” Hilda says. “But I was in Florida when Dale Sr. stopped by. But I was a Mark Martin fan anyway,” she laughs.
Fans of the restaurant say you have to go with the scratch-made breakfast – eggs and meat and biscuits like, well, Mom used to make. And sometimes (during the NCAA Tournament, for instance), Hilda will offer her signature gravy, but with bright blue food coloring, another tribute to UK.
Others will point out you can’t go wrong with the massive double cheeseburgers, crinkle-cut french fries and dessert pies. But be warned: Mom’s only accepts cash.
It seems like there’s really only one drawback, Hilda says.
“Back when I left Kentucky, I said I would never do any more dishes,” she says, laughing. “Now all I seem to do is wash those biscuit skillets.
“But I love it, and I love UK. You should come by and visit some time.”
Ever been to Mom’s? Are there other awesome Big Blue hangouts like this across the state and country? Leave your comments below and let us know. Or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter: @rhinoKSR or my website: ForRyanOutLoud.com and maybe I’ll share them.