- Last Updated on 07:34 AM 11/07/13
- BY Ashley Hodge
A year ago, the “Crazy Cajun” of Potts Landing gave a piece of history back to the Elmo community for residents once again to make their own.
This history-filled building known as Elmo Grocery is located at the end of Birch Elmo Road.
For 28 years, before retiring to live in the Elmo community, Steve (who didn’t wish to be identified by his last name) worked as a project manager in Greensboro, N.C.
Prior to working in Greensboro, he ran a catering company in his hometown of Louisiana.
The building now known as Elmo Grocery has been a part of the community for as far back as 1790 when it served as the Melrose Academy.
The academy was made up of several buildings, but all are gone except Elmo.
The Rev. John Mills was the last headmaster before it closed during the Civil War.
“Upstairs you can see where the boys used to stay. You can even see where Rev. Mills and the boys carved or wrote their names on the wall,” said Steve.
Even though it was sold and bought several times over the years, it remained unopened until William Hayes purchased it in 1883. Hayes opened it as a post office.
Steve said he wanted to keep the name Melrose, but it was already taken. “So he took letters from Melrose and came up with Elmo.”
The post office was open from Sept. 10, 1883 to Jan. 21, 1910.
Frank Hicks of Chesterfield is now the owner of the building.
Steve said, “He bought the store because he didn’t want anyone to tear it down. So, he owns it, and I run it.”
The store’s hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
During the week, for lunch they sell hotdogs, barbecue, hot subs, soups and pizza. Also sodas, chips, candy and a few grocery items also are for sell in the store.
“I try to do as much local as I can. Local farmers bring me their vegetables and their eggs. Hudson Heritage Farms sells their meat here,” said Steve.
According to the store operator, the weekends are what folks in Elmo live for.
“During the week, I go to town for shopping to get everything ready, and I’ll start planning,” said Steve. “Then on Friday night, they’ll start pouring in. They’re religious. It could snow, sleet or rain, and the Friday crowd will come in groups. We know them as the wild bunch. They come to see each other; it’s just a meeting place.”
Steve says he has never had any complaints about it being crowded or the food taking too long despite the size of the crowd.
“By 7 p.m., they are standing in here shoulder to shoulder. I don’t know how they do it,” said Steve.
Pizza seems to be a big hit at Elmo with the most made on a Friday night being 70 pizzas.
“Last Friday we sold 57 pizzas and on Saturday 40,” said Steve.
“The funny thing is before I came here, I had never made a pizza in my life. I just caught a good deal on a pizza oven and tried it out,” Steve added.
By the slice or whole, customers have the choice of purchasing “Elmo’s Pizza” which is similar to a supreme, “Black Pizza” which is a meatlovers, pepperoni, cheese and dessert pizza of apple or cherry flavor.
Every Saturday guests will be in for a different treat with different specials and events planned.
On Oct. 26, from noon to 2 p.m. Larry Giordano, who ran and was elected the new supervisor for Election District-6, held a meet and greet.
Last Saturday, Elmo’s held its first Band and Burgers featuring burgers from Hudson Heritage Farms.
Steve said, “Brian Hardy, a talented local musician, and some of his friends were here, and they were just picking and grinning. They had their groupies here dancing on the porch doing this clogging, hillbilly dance. It was cool. Everyone was having a good time.”
In the past, some of the food specials were catfish, gumbo, jambalaya and Cajun red beans and rice and smoking’ Cajun sausage.
Steve said, “I just come up with what I want to cook that Saturday, then I listen to the community to see what I need to bring back or what they suggest I cook next.”
Elmo has run several other events such as a Christmas parade and a 4th of July parade, which Steve says started out as a joke.
The 4th of July parade started about two years ago before the store was even open.
According to Steve, he and some friends decided they wanted to dress up their trailers and their tractors to drive them to Steve’s clubhouse at Potts Landing in a parade fashion.
“We had about five or six floats when we started. There was a couple of people out on the porch waving to us, and that was fun,” said Steve.
After having the 4th of July parade, Steve said he had people calling him asking how they can register for the Christmas parade.
“I told them to be at this place at this time. The sheriff’s department blocked off the roads and escorted us. There was probably about 20 floats and 150 people watching,” said Steve.
This Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be the Birch Elmo Trail Ride for those who want to come ride their horses on Potts Landing. The cost is $25. Their will be supper at 4 p.m. and a bonfire at 7 p.m.
To keep up with what’s going to be thought of next, guests are encouraged to go to their Facebook page.
“A friend of mine in Virginia Beach actually runs the Facebook page. We just let him know what’s going on, and he tries to keep everyone laughing as he passes the information along,” said Steve.
Now that the election is over, and he can remove signs for the candidates, Steve has a new idea to relay information.
“I want to put a big sign out front that will let people who are driving by know what’s going on,” he said.
When stopping at Elmo, the food is not the only treat. The décor offers something special, too.
Inside, a military corner honors veterans who have brought in memorabilia.
Also several antiques such as old store signs can be found inside the store that Steve said are “just for display.”
“They are just items that people bring to me to put in the store. It belongs to them. For example, someone brought in a picture of John Mills. Another person brought in information about the Creath House on River Road after I found a sign that says ‘W.T. Creath and Sons Paces, Virginia’,” said Steve.
Outside and inside, visitors also will find several signs that Steve’s daughter painted displaying on-going jokes made by the customers such as one saying “Elmo Socialites.”
When sitting at the bar, looking up, visitors will see where customers have scribbled their names on the panel.
“On Friday nights, I’ll get a stool or someone will lift someone up, and they’ll sign it,” said Steve.
There is even a name up there that some might recognize, Norm Benning.
Benning is a NASCAR driver of the number 57 car. Not only did he sign his name in Elmo, but also he has an Elmo sticker as well as Potts Landing sticker on his car.
Overall, Steve feels like Elmo Grocery has been very successful, and he enjoys seeing his regulars.
“It’s more about what it’s done with the community and what the community has done for Elmo. If it weren’t for my loyal customers, I wouldn’t have made it this far. I feel like I have to keep it going for them. It’s not a store, it’s a destination. This just gave them a place to go,” said Steve.
Steve says many people have come into Elmo’s to reminisce about times in which they came there as a child or to gossip on the front porch.
“Elmo Grocery is woven into the community. It was just empty for so long, and now I’m doing what I can to spruce it up,” said Steve.
“When I first got here, I felt like this was a dying community, and everyone just existed. They would go to work, go home, and that’s it. Now they come here, and they come in packs.”
As Steve says, Elmo Grocery belongs to the community, and he just shows up to cook.