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If you find yourself in Old Washington from morning to noon, stop at the newly opened Jolly’s Café, a good place to order breakfast and—starting next week–lunch, and a tribute to the local legend it’s named after.
You’ll find the place by hanging a right turn on Conway as you’re driving north from Hope. Look for a recently restored 40s-era house with early dusk blue shutters framing tall windows with white trim. A knee-high white picket fence lines the yard.
Now in its first week in business, the café is owned by Catherine Rowe and her husband Dwayne, but run by Catherine and her sister Rebecca Stuart, with Catherine’s niece and Rebecca’s daughter Samantha Patterson as head cook. Catherine and Rebecca’s great uncle, Jolly Stuart, had a store himself at the corner of Franklin and Arkansas highway 278 from the 1930s to the 50s. On one wall of his nieces’ café in 2022, Jolly is pictured in black and white alongside several other pictures of Stuart family members.
Catherine and Dwayne had bought adjoining homes in Washington to use potentially as rent houses. But Catherine credits Rebecca, who moved into the house next door, with the “dream of having a little café or restaurant.” On one occasion, Catherine explains, “We said ‘Hey, why don’t we do that together? Let’s open a little place in Washington,’ and we thought, ‘Let’s do breakfast, because . . . the only other eatery here just serves lunch.’”
On a nearly-spring morning, the sun descends through the windows onto blue and green tablecloths modelled on those your grandmother may have used. On each of the four tables a bouquet of bright jonquils stand in stylized vases. My table’s bouquet grows from a ceramic house. The walls are painted the darker yellow of jonquils seen in evening. Rowe said she wanted the interior to be bright and to remind you of “going to a favorite aunt’s home.”
Along the wall separating the dining room from the kitchen, an early 20th century shelving unit displays several cup and saucer sets with price tags labelled Holly’s Crazy Daizies. “Before we get t-shirts and hats and things that have Jolly’s there, she [Holly] put some glass pieces in there that would be eye-catching.” Indeed, they are, with intricately painted flowers of every color sweeping their curves. Prices for each piece start at $10.
Rowe speaks with pride about the café’s homemade biscuits and cinnamon rolls. The menu features three breakfast plates, which each make me hungry to describe. First, there’s the two-egg breakfast with sausage or bacon and skillet potatoes; the second adds two pancakes or one waffle to the first plate and, third, the homemade biscuits and gravy plate, which is also added to what comes in the first plate. Jolly’s also serves biscuits and gravy by themselves, and you can also order biscuit sandwiches with meat alone or with egg and/or cheese. Rowe calls it, “Good Southern dining. A good hearty breakfast for a busy day.”
Rowe says the biggest challenge to converting what had been a residence to a modern café was expanding the house’s 600 square feet to 900 to allow for the kitchen. Besides the addition of a back deck, the building was also fitted with wheelchair ramps. “We want to make sure everyone can come in and enjoy.”
The new deck, Rowe says, will come in handy as the café hosts special events. When it warms up in a couple weeks, because of the deck, you can choose to dine or drink your coffee outside, where table seating is available amid the songs of birds in the Magnolia and Pine branches. Another table waits in the front yard.
While Jolly’s Café is only open until noon in its first week, what Rowe calls its “soft opening,” the restaurant will begin serving lunch beginning Monday, March 14—just before the Jonquil Festival starts the following Friday the 18th–as it hopes to become as much a fixture in today’s Old Washington as Uncle Jolly himself was in yesterday’s.