There was a time when people who worked around North Chestnut Street could choose a different lunch cafe for every day of the workweek. And if they worked at one of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company factories on Chestnut Street, they could just walk across the street for the cafe and lunch of their choice.
Cafes lined the 100 block of North Chestnut Street, as shown in the photo above. The photo is dated about 1958, and is taken from Second Street, looking south toward First Street. The restaurants are on the right, and R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company 256 complex is at the left. The second photo shows the same street from the opposite direction.
The names of the restaurants changed some over the years, but in 1958, the corner property was vacant. The name of “R. S. Whitaker Dough-Nut” was written on the window. A bakery, operated by Richard S. Whitaker, was located here earlier in the 1950s. Some of the other restaurants were Nancy’s Lunch, Georgia’s Lunch, Tatum & Conrad Lunch, Smith Lunch, Bell’s Lunch, Scales Lunch, and Cooke’s & Vaughn’s Cafe.
The Nu Method Cleaners was situated between two cafes, as was an automobile repair shop. The city parking lot was located at the far end of the 100 block. The cobblestones are visible on the street in both of the older photos.
By 1959, the restaurants were gone, replaced by a larger parking lot. The jail was built on Church Street, on the lot behind the restaurants. The parking lot was expanded and extended to Chestnut Street.
In March 2015, a parking lot and deck cover the entire 100 block of North Chestnut Street, extending to North Church Street. The jail that was behind City Hall was demolished, and a new jail was built one block north, in the 200 block of North Church Street. The scarcity of lunch cafe choices, within walking distance, is often lamented by people who work in this area of downtown. They probably have no idea of the abundance of cafes, plus a company cafeteria, that gave workers in earlier years the pleasant task of selecting the day’s lunch menu based on which cafe aroma was the most enticing.
Black and white photos courtesy of Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection. Color photo by Molly Grogan Rawls.