Sunset dishes out down-home delicious
Story & photos by Ken Beck
Years ago when Cracker Barrel announced plans to open a restaurant on the opposite side of South Cumberland from Sunset, folks warned Bob and Virginia Hodge that their business would suffer.
The Hodges felt no alarm. They knew their product as well as they knew their customers.
“When Cracker Barrel went up across the street it was one of the best things that ever happened to us,” said Bob. “Our business went up 20 percent right away, and I didn’t have to do no advertising.”
“I don’t care how many new restaurants come in. Some of our customers go try ’em, but they come back. We have been so fortunate, so blessed,” says Virginia.
Sunset Restaurant, most likely the longest running, same-family-owned diner in Lebanon, has been serving scrumptious meals by the Hodge family for 45 years.
There are at least four good reasons for Sunset’s success: tasty food, reasonable prices, eager-to-please waitresses and a family-friendly environment.
“Consistency is what we strive on. We buy the best. We don’t cut corners on anything. We always thought, if you buy the best, then you wound up with a good product,” said Bob. “We give everybody our recipes, and they make it, but it don’t taste the same. They can’t buy the same ingredients we buy.”
Those familiar with Sunset’s menu know the all-star attractions are roast beef, pork tenderloins, fried chicken, ham, cat-fish, vegetables, the BIG salads and the coconut and chocolate pies. But, as the restaurant’s legion of regular customers can attest, it’s all good eating.
“I opened up a restaurant on the square here in 1986 and tried to compete with him, and I’d come out here to eat with him,” said longtime Lebanon businessman T.A. “Tommy” Bryan. “This is hard work. This is the best restaurant I’ve ever eat in for a meat and three. Bob knows how to do it. He’s one of the best.
“The only thing wrong with this restaurant is that he closes it on Wednesday and you have to go somewhere else to eat. You get quality every time,” Bryan said.
Said diner Neal Shipper, who favors the tenderloin and roast beef, “I’ve been eating here 52 years. I come back here in 1959 out of the Air Force. The food and the service is great.”