ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) When you talk to Harold Wingate, the owner of The Homeplace, about the food served at his restaurant, you realize very quickly there's more to the deliciousness than what makes the mouth water. The eating at The Homeplace is based on a southern culture that's fried with plenty of sides, extra meat and inspiration from two women in Harold's life -- his mother and wife.
The first woman in a man's life is always his mother. That was never more true than for Harold Wingate. It was 1927 when Harold's father Roy Harold Wingate and mother Callie Mae Pool got married.
"There wasn't much money," Harold said. "In the '30s and even the early '40s there wasn't much."
But what Harold and his family did have was good cooking. Harold was the oldest child, so if there was anyone helping his mom out in the kitchen it was him.
"Anything she could fry she could make gravy," Harold explained with a smile. "We always had gravy at every meal but we didn't have meat at every meal."
To Harold, real southern cooking means you season the food as you cook it. It was important that he keep the old timers' way of cokkin' alive in his own restaurant.
"My mother didn't have a lot of recipes. A lot of the old time cooks knew what to put in it but to you couldn't get them to write it down. It's more like 'I don't know a little pinch of this and a dab of this,'" Harold said.
It was Harold's mom who gave him an appetite for southern food but it was his wife who provided the recipe to eat and live well.
The second woman in a man's life -- his wife
It was in 1955, Harold worked for the state department of taxation. Harold was assigned to Botetourt County to do some real estate assessment. In the early winter, Harold met at a man's house before they went out to assess some property. The man told his daughter to cook them lunch and have it ready when they got back.
"I came back to a good country lunch," Harold said. "There was fried tenderloin, gravy and apple custard pie. I took a real interest in the lady not only for her beauty but for ability to cook."
The lady was Millie and now is Harold's wife. The funny thing about that encounter in 1955 was very soon after Harold first met Millie he asked her to go on a date. The problem was Millie was engaged.
"She showed me her diamond and I said 'Do you know where you got it?' She said, 'Of course, why?' and I said 'Well if you know where it came from send it back.'"
Millie sent it back and now Millie's family recipes are very much a part of The Homeplace's menu.
A taste of Homeplace history
Harold bought the property for The Homeplace on Saturday October 20, 1978. Soon after he decided to open a restaurant.
"I felt like there was a need for it and at the time the banks were skittish giving me 18 to 20 percent interest," Harold said. "If you don't know who the president was at the time I'll tell you, Jimmy Carter."
In spite of Carter's presidency, Harold finally received the financing to back his new business. On the 17th of December 1982 with only 85 seats, The Homeplace opened and it didn't take long for the southern cooking to gain a reputation.
"Within two weeks we had a line on Saturday night," Harold boasted. "If you do it right you won't have to spend any advertising money because you'll have word of mouth."
Back then prices were simple. Three dollars for children and $6 for adults.
"I knew real southern food was a scarce item," Harold said. "The only question I had was figuring out if we were going to do family style or do it by order. I finally decided family style."
The news spread and now The Homeplace's reputation has even more notoriety as the popularity of the Appalachian Trail grows. In some places you'll find The Homeplace ranked the No. 1 restaurant along the AT.
"At the risk of bragging, it doesn't really surprise me because you got a lot of folks on that trail that have trouble finding something good to eat."
Once they reach Southwest Virginia they don't have to look very far. The meals served at The Homeplace Restaurant are a way of livin' and eatin' inspired by a man's love for his mother and wife. It's a southern culture that's spread hundreds of miles along the Appalachian Trail.