Nestled away on a meandering road behind Heritage High School is a special restaurant that not only serves up home-cooking like grandma made, but also serves up heartwarming smiles and friendship.
The Rustic Barn captures the interest of tourists and locals alike. The food, atmosphere and hospitality have customers coming back again and again.
“I love it,” says Rustic Barn server Michele Hanko. “People come from all over, and I love to hear their stories.”
The Rustic Barn didn’t start as a restaurant. Owner Barbara Hatmaker explains that when she and her husband, Thomas Hatmaker, who passed away last fall, purchased the land, their goal was to renovate the barn and sell crafts and antiques on consignment.
“As I say, God has an awesome sense of humor,” Hatmaker says. “I thought he was joking when he said, ‘restaurant.’”
When Hatmaker shows the pictures of what the tobacco barn used to look like, it is easy to see how far the building has come in the last ten years. According to Hatmaker, the kitchen was actually the garage and workshop.
“It’s a work in progress,” Hatmaker adds.
The work continues. Through the kindness of monetary and service time donations, the Rustic Barn is building an additional dining space. Church groups and neighbors have come to help work on the building. They are raising the money for the building supplies through garage sales and donations. In July, the windows came in, and a crew of volunteers help put them in the building.
The new space will seat approximately 50 guests. Hatmaker says it will be a perfect place for church groups, anniversary parties, Red Hat clubs outings and rehearsal dinners.
“I hope to have folks bring their instruments and play music on the front porch,” she says.
For Hatmaker, her version of the restaurant business is all about giving people what they want and need. When the Rustic Barn was selling crafts and antiques, Hatmaker said people would talk about good, country cooking. It was then that Hatmaker said the Lord put the idea of a restaurant into her heart.
She said God gave her the idea: A “Five S” Food Shop, with the five “S’s” having double meanings -- sandwich, salad, soup, steak and sweets, and saved, salvation, sanctification, set aside and satisfied. She said she stopped salads and cold sandwiches because people crave the home cooking.
Although the yellow pages list the restaurant with the original name of Five S Food Shop, everyone knows the eatery as the Rustic Barn.
At the restaurant, patrons come to sink their teeth in the fresh fried chicken, meatloaf, homemade coconut cream pie and fruit cobbler.
“It does taste like home cooking,” says Montee Callahan, who was on his first visit to the Rustic Barn. “It has a good atmosphere.”
Vicki Callahan, who tried the fried chicken, added that the mashed potatoes were real, unlike some chain restaurants who use powdered potatoes. They said they are already planning a return trip to bring their aunt and uncle, who appreciate fine, country cooking.
Ron Sliger and Barbara Bennett came from Knoxville to eat at the Rustic Barn. “We were out exploring,” Sliger says. He said they saw a write-up in the Farm Bureau’s “Front Porch” magazine, and they had intended to try it since reading the story.
The Kagley’s have been coming to the Rustic Barn on most Fridays for more than four years. They enjoy the pinto beans and fried potatoes and even call Hatmaker to let her know if they are not going to make it one week.
“We try to make it homey,” Hatmaker says of the restaurant. She adds that they serve more than just food. Hatmaker and her staff, who are like family, try to make a difference in people’s lives. In turn, Hatmaker says, those people have responded by making a difference in her life, and by making it possible for her to continue her vision of opening the dining hall. Her philosophy -- Jehovah Jireh or the Lord will provide -- carries her forward.
The Rustic Barn, which is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesdays to Saturdays, is located at 2828 Ellejoy Road.