The familiar hum of the customers meets the sound of the vintage milkshake machine as it spins up a strawberry shake. Townhouse Café makes the old time milkshakes — thick, not foamy. They are just thin enough to sip through a straw.
The milkshake machine is the last relic from the beginning that James Hamm can remember. It’s an aqua green machine with three prongs. One of them turns like it has never been used, Hamm says.
“You can’t get a milkshake the way we make milkshakes around here,” he said.
Family, the key
Hamm has been a part of The Townhouse Café since its first day in 1964.
Nothing much has changed, he said, except Hamm doesn’t come in to open the restaurant. He makes his son Cedrick do it. Cedrick Hamm, who now handles the day to day operation of Townhouse, marks the third generation of the family business.
“Without my family, we couldn’t have been 50 years here,” Hamm said.
It all started with Hamm’s mother, Mrs. Ossie Lee R. Stone Hamm, who began the restaurant to make a better life for her family and serve affordable eats to the community.
The family lived in Oxford, where Hamm grew up. Mrs. Ossie Lee R. Stone Hamm taught classes in Newton County in the morning and was at the restaurant to see the kids in the afternoon.
“This was my mother’s passion,” Hamm said. “She loved this place when she got it.”
Townhouse originally started two blocks from its current location. Four years later, in 1968, Townhouse moved to where Mr. Hamo’s grocery store was.
“He came over and was like, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’” Hamm said of Mr. Hamo, who asked the family to buy his building in 1968. In a few years they had it paid off.
“When we came up here we were only going to be here three years, but we stayed here a lifetime,” Hamm said. “I don’t know how I made it all those years.”
Over the years, his siblings, nieces and nephews have all worked at Townhouse at one point or another. But while his siblings left to do other things over the years, James Hamm stayed. His sister figured if he did, he would work for himself. And he took her up on the offer.
They keep coming back
Hamm doesn’t remember his very first day, but he has had fun every day since.
“I’ve had good times and I’ve had bad times,” he said. “People from all over have always come and checked on me. We got people coming from everywhere. I got people coming from Europe every year to eat with me.”
Hamm has gotten a chance to get to know people from all over, and the chance to feed all kinds of people. And if the customer wants something different, Hamm said they will tell him what they want and they can make it.
“You come through those doors, we go to work,” Hamm said. “That’s what people like.”
Cook fresh every day
“How was your food?” he asks. “Was it hot?”
“Yeah. Too hot.”
“That’s right,” Hamm says.
Everything made at The Townhouse Café is made to order, as it always has been. He says you never have to wait more than 3 minutes for a hot meal. And you don’t.
Townhouse serves a variety of foods that encompass all three meals of the day. Of course it has not always been so.
“It used to be basic dinner — one meat, two veggies, burgers, splits — that was way back,” Hamm said. “Now we serve all kinds of different food. We’ve changed everything, except the Splits.”
Hamm said they don’t sell a lot of the notoriously red, salty links anymore. But when they do, they are made on the grill or in the fryer, sometimes with onions.
Whatever it is, Hamm said the key is getting people fed.
“My mother used to tell me cook fresh every day, and always someone is going to come check on you.”
And as another customer walks in, Hamm greets them with a warm smile and a nod, just like he does every day at The Townhouse Café.
After all, as Hamm says, “You’re uptown now, baby!”