Blue Ridge Country - November/December 2017 - 60
The ham comes from Johnston County Hams in
Smithfield, North Carolina, selected by Men's Journal
as one of the "100 Best Things to Eat in America."
In the early 1960s, he hired an
enterprising Roanoke native named
Renee "Butch" Craft as a secretary.
She'd stop in on breaks from college
classes and answer the phone. When
E.C. Warren retired, Craft took over
as owner of the restaurant.
It was a fortuitous choice. Not
only had she learned every aspect
of the business, she also had come
to know virtually every person who
ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner at
The Roanoker. And she learned their
As we have breakfast with her on
a late summer morning, she leaves
the table often, to check on a customer who has been ill, to wish another customer a happy birthday,
and to find out how another customer is dealing with retirement.
Both of Craft's parents died at
a young age. E.C. Warren stepped
in to fill that void in her life. They
worked together for 38 years.
"E.C. taught me things about life
that my parents couldn't," Craft
tells us. One of those lessons was
to take care of employees and value their longevity. We were seated
that morning by June Rogers, who
has worked at The Roanoker for 42
years. For most of her career, she
waited tables. But a broken shoulder prevented her from lifting trays.
Instead of turning her out to find
another job, Craft converted Rogers
into a hostess.
"People come to work here and
stay for 30 or 40 years," says Craft,
In one of the restaurant's hallways is a collection of photographs.
It's an unassuming but profound
shrine to those who have remained
loyal employees over many years.
Fran Lambert is exactly the same
age as the restaurant, 76, and is still
waiting tables. Craft tells us that
Lambert was widowed at a young
age and raised five children by herself.
Although goose liver sandwiches
for lunch and prune juice for break-
fast no longer appear on the Roanoker menu, the breakfast fare remains largely unchanged from what
was served in the middle of the 20th
century. Whereas The Texas Tavern is
known for the Cheesy Western and
its chile spelled with an "e" on the
end, and the Hotel Roanoke gained
culinary fame through its historic
peanut soup and spoon bread, The
Roanoker's claim to greatness is the
On a typical Sunday, the restaurant sells anywhere from 1,000 to
1,500 of them, depending on the
number of to-go orders. Even with
shortened hours on Christmas Eve-
from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.-biscuit orders
usually surpass 4,000.
To get the "fluffy and light" texture she desires, Craft relies on flour
from the Big Spring Mill in Elliston,
Virginia. And, she says, the restaurant had used the same shortening
for years, but that shortening was
taken off the market.
"We went through five shorten-