Where good people meet good food

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By Ron Benningfield

Ray DeSpain, owner of Ray’s Hodgenville Grill, first developed a taste for the restaurant business while on a South Fork Church mission trip to Tellico River, Tennessee, in 1976.

The 1975 LaRue County High School graduate was assigned to work in the camp kitchen.

“We fed the same people three times a day and I was involved in all the stages of preparing and serving the food,” DeSpain recalled. “While I was doing it, I felt a Power leading me into the restaurant business.”

That start as a restaurateur came on February 1, 1986, when DeSpain left for Morristown, Tennessee, for three weeks of managerial training for Western Steer Steakhouse.

After training, he became assistant manager of Elizabethtown’s Western Steer. A year later, he became the 350-seat restaurant’s manager, a position he held until the restaurant closed in 2002 when he resumed full-time farming plus working for Kentucky Pork Producers.

“Somehow, the Power was still drawing me toward the restaurant business,” he said. When the former Hodgenville Dairy Queen building came up for sale in 2004, he called the auction company to see how much it brought.

“When I called Bobby Dobson, he said they hadn’t sold it yet,” DeSpain said. “When I found out the sale was in progress instead of being over, I felt that same power at work as it was at that mission camp.”

After a quick call, his banker placed a winning bid at the sale and he was back in the restaurant business. DeSpain leased the building for a while, then reopened it with its current name on March 12, 2008.

“I changed the sunroom décor into one of an old storefront to give it a rustic, country flavor,” he said.

A month after opening, he hired Judy Alford to manage the 60-seat restaurant that has 12 employees.

“This restaurant wouldn’t be what it is today without Judy and our employees,” DeSpain declared.

Among the specialties that turn new customers into regulars are Alford’s homemade pies and potato salad.

“Ray picks our menu items from what are most popular with our customers,” Alford said. “Our Roast Beef Manhattan is one of the most popular entrees and wherever possible, we make everything homemade.”

The restaurant was chosen to provide the Lincoln Day Luncheon in 2012-14. DeSpain said its biggest day was in the summer of 2015 when 140 volunteers who helped build Steadfast Church plus regular customers came for lunch at his establishment.

Good People, Good Food

Food isn’t the only draw at Ray’s, though. The restaurant’s motto is, “Where Good People Meet Good Food,” and both DeSpain and Alford attest to their customers being more like family than patrons.

“People who enjoy the food and fellowship are our satisfaction,” DeSpain shared. “You get attached to your customers.”

Several people come for meals every day, and DeSpain said those that can’t continue coming are sorely missed.

“Genrose and J.T. Meers came every day; Paul Civils ate lunch here every day, and Linda Back has to have her chocolate pie every Friday,” DeSpain offered.

“We care about our customers and they know they’re welcome,” added Alford.

The Grill, located at 704 South Lincoln Boulevard, is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday. It has a salad bar with all items cut fresh daily and features all-you-can-eat fish with slaw and fries 3-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays.