For so many people who enjoy fond memories of Bluffs Coffee Shop, the stories go beyond the ham biscuits, pan-fried chicken, and berry cobbler. A big part of the charm of stopping in for a home-style meal was the welcoming staff, including server Ellen Woodruff Smith, who worked at The Bluffs from the day it opened on May 31, 1949, to the day it closed on November 1, 2010.
“I never met a stranger,” says Ellen, who greeted tourists from all 50 states and loyal locals with her beautiful Alleghany County accent and expressions. In her 61 years working at the popular Parkway spot at Doughton Park, she saw familiar faces come back time and again and children grow up each season, eventually returning with their own children. Ellen confesses she “spoiled every youngin’ I could.”
And just as The Bluffs was a meeting place for family and friends, it was also the place Ellen met her husband, Paul. He recalls her as “beautiful but aloof.” Still, he won her over and the two married in 1952. Paul became a regular face at Bluffs in his off time from working for the National Park Service to maintain the rangers’ vehicles and heavy duty equipment. He wasn’t just a frequent customer though, he helped with service at Bluffs Coffee Shop and the Lodge.
Today, Ellen and Paul, who are in their 90s, still receive Christmas cards from friends and customers who frequented Bluffs Coffee Shop. The couple would like nothing more than to see it reopen, and thanks to your support, it’s happening. A decade after Bluffs Restaurant closed, the beloved dining spot is slated to reopen in 2020.
To safeguard the significant investment of our Community of Stewards, the Foundation is in the process of securing a historic lease for the site, allowing for oversite of the new operation as well as the facility. Thank you to all of our stewards for your support. Without you, this wouldn’t be possible.
- Written by Julie Hettiger. This article is published in our 2018-2019 Annual Report.
Photo of Bluffs Coffee Shop in 1995 courtesy of Bill Harrison. Addition photos: Paul and Ellen Smith; Ellen holding a Bluffs staff photo