The history of Mobile and its restaurants have historically been a complicated marriage. Although Mobile’s history dates back over 300 years, we don’t have a restaurant like Antoine’s in New Orleans that has survived a Civil War, multiple World Wars, depressions and recessions. Downtown Mobile has seen many restaurants come and go since restaurants became an option for hungry citizens around the 1840’s. Antebellum restaurants in Mobile would have served guests a variety of seafood stews, crab and of course our most famous delicacy, oysters. It wouldn’t be until the advent and prevalence of refrigeration until restaurants could find success in Mobile with longevity.
I recently took an unscientific poll on Facebook and asked my friends and followers “Without looking, what do you think is the oldest restaurant in Mobile?” The Dew Drop Inn was an overwhelming popular answer and with good reason since they market themselves as such. Even on their Midtown sign at Old Shell and Kenneth St. boasts, “Mobile’s Oldest Restaurant.”
Opened in 1924, the Dew Drop Inn has served generations of Mobilians with their famous Dew Drop Hot Dog. They are even credited as introducing Mobilians of the 1920’s to the early 20th century phenomenon of a “hot dog”. The Dew Drop hot dog is certainly a bucket list item for out of town guests to our city. The Dew Drop Inn also prides themselves as a favorite of cheeseburger connoisseur, Jimmy Buffett but is the Dew Drop Inn really “Mobile’s Oldest Restaurant”?
Morisson’s Cafeteria opened their doors in Mobile on September 4, 1920. Founded by J.A. Morisson who first introduced cafeteria style restaurants that became widely popular for many decades around the south. In the 1950’s, Morisson’s had grown to 17 locations in 4 states. Mobile had as many as five Morisson’s locations at one point serving “homemade” cooked food 365 days a year. At their peak in the 1980’s, Morisson’s boasted 151 locations across the country. The popularity of casual dining restaurants in the 1990’s and eventually fast-casual in the 2010’s have almost spelled the death of cafeterias around the country. Morisson’s currently has one remaining location, in the city it began, Mobile. The Springdale location has stood the test of time and continues to serve home style meals to its patrons.
The answer to the question “What is Mobile’s Oldest Restaurant?” respectfully seems to favor Morisson’s being approximately 4 years older than the Dew Drop Inn.
A cafeteria by all definitions of the word is considered a restaurant. Morisson’s has certainly lacked in their marketing and when you combine the changing trends in dining I’ll put my money on The Dew Drop Inn lasting another 100 years in Mobile. Either way, hats off to two amazing, historic restaurants that lasted a full century in Mobile’s food scene. A feat that only the two of them can boast.