The year of 1936 was a big year. The Hoover Dam was completed, Gone with the Wind had just been published, and the country was in the middle of the New Deal. But 1936 also saw hard times. The Great Depression was still going on. And in the small town of Mint Hill, a devoted father of nine had a plan both to provide for his family and to serve good hot meals at a fair price.
Harold “Penny” Mullis, Sr. had a vision for the land in front of the old Esso Station. He would build a grill and pool hall for the locals. Penny managed the business, cooked the food, and served the drinks. Friends, Pete Todd and Erskine Phillips, helped keep the establishment clean.
Since it wasn’t proper in those days for ladies to darken the doors of a pool hall, Penny sought an opportunity to expand his business. He offered curb-side service to the women taking their lunch break from Drum Manufacturing just up the road. Penny’s wife, Martha “Mutt” Mullis made her signature chili, a family recipe that is still served at Penny’s Place today.
Penny pursued his passion for auto racing on the side. In 1941, an open-wheel car named, “Noc-Out Hose Clamp” won the Indy 500. Penny bought that same car in 1953. His good friend, Buck Baker, became its driver. Later Buck Baker would stop by Penny’s Place for sandwiches on his way to his driving school in Rockingham.
Penny Mullis retired in the late 70s, and his sons, Tommy and Donald, remodeled the grill and pool hall to the family restaurant it is today. Harold Jr. took over the day-to-day business until Billy and Shirley Mullis Kiser bought it from him about 25 years ago.
In those 25 years, they have served thousands of breakfasts and lunches, but running a thriving restaurant didn’t leave much time for leisure. Billy laughs, “For our only vacation since we started running it, we took our granddaughters to Disney World for a week about nine years ago.”
When I stopped in for breakfast the other day, Billy was behind the grill cooking eggs to order. “You have to know how to do it all in this business,” he says. “I wash dishes, do the cooking, and handle any customer complaints if they have them. I do whatever has to be done.”
For 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, Penny’s Place was over half full with a group of gentlemen discussing who knows what and three or four couples having breakfast. One customer, Dan O’Brien, says “I’m glad to see it’s going to continue. It’s a longstanding landmark here in Mint Hill. The company is always good, and the politics are always biased. We wish Billy well.”
Billy says that there is a prospective buyer for Penny’s Place, and he is hoping that the restaurant won’t close for even a day. After Billy retires on December 15th, he hopes to work on some of his own classic cars. His 1940 Ford convertible is in need of detailing, and his T-model truck that he inherited from his own father could use a little work. “But I’ll still be around,” Billy assures me. “I’ll come and eat breakfast with some of my friends from time to time.”
“I want to thank everyone for the years of good times we’ve had,” Billy says. “I remember all the friends I’ve made who have passed. We miss them a ton. They were real good friends and good people.”
If you’re able, stop by Penny’s Place at 7920 Matthews-Mint Hill Road to give Billy your best wishes for his retirement.