Dempsey Essick is a self taught, self expressed realist watercolor artist. He is known as the Hummingbird Bird Artist; not only for the hummingbirds he paints but for the hidden hummingbirds he hides in his paintings.

1996 Edition: 900 • Image size: 17 x 23

"Southern Lunch"

For the fourth and final poster in his 'Down Home' series, Dempsey Essick has chosen the "Southern Lunch", a favorite eating spot in Lexington.

Herbert Miller Lohr first started serving hot dogs and hamburgers from a small building by the railroad tracks in 1925. He only had a lunch counter and stools in the beginning, and most of his customers worked for the Southern Railroad, so he called his cafe Southern Lunch.

The story since 1925 has been one of expansion. First, a few booths were added. Then as the business grew, Herbert moved across Railroad Street to larger quarters.

Gilbert, Fred, Herb,
Dempsey & Laverne

After a long apprenticeship, Fred Lohr took over from his dad in 1958 and after a brief setback in 1977 when lightning started a fire that gutted the building, Fred rebuilt and continued to expland until 1982 when he handed off to his son, Herb, the namesake of the original.

Today, Herb and his thirty-five loyal employees can seat 170 customers who may be wearing business suits or blue jeans and might include anyone from Racing Champ, Dale Earnhart, to Baseball Great, Enos Slaughter.

Gilbert, Fred & Laverne pose for the painting

In the painting, Dempsey portrays the cafe as it looks to anyone passing on Railroad Street. Herb Lohr is visible through the window greeting customers and manning the cash register. On the sidewalk, Fred Lohr stands between Gilbert Barbee on the left and Laverne Owens, the two longest serving employees.

Owens rules over the kitchen that has doubled in size twice since he prepared his first Southern Lunch bread- burger. Gilbert, now retired, remembers starting out in the original lunchroom. His storehouse of stories includes most of the famous and near famous who have eaten at the cafe but perhaps the most poignant memory was in 1945, watching the slow passage of the black draped train carrying the body of President Roosevelt from Warm Springs, Georgia back to Washington, DC.

Dempsey sketching

In a city famous for its barbecue restaurants, it may seem remarkable than an old fashioned cafe, situated on a street that no marketing survey would recommend, should be so successful for so many years. The answer lies in a number of things. The welcoming attitude of everyone in the dining room, the honest straight forward menu, and the probability that you'll see a friend or neighbor among the diners.

The scene that Dempsey has painted is exact in every detail. The color of the brickwork, the chipped paint on the curb and even the public phone on the corner, are all just as they appear. The customers visible through the window are representative of all customers, but if you are sure it is someone you know, then you are probably right.

Southern Lunch Destroyed by Fire

From News 14 Carolina 2/12/08

LEXINGTON -- Owners of the Southern Lunch are beginning to piece it back together after fire destroyed the establishment nearly eight months ago. Last week, a crane removed the most of the destroyed roof and now contractors are busy getting the new one on. If Southern Lunch was open, you would find Timothy Dye in the kitchen. "I started when I was 17, I started working [here] back in [1981] and I've enjoyed it ever since," said Dye. But Tuesday a crow bar was his tool of choice. "Just reconstructing the building, right now I am just lifting bricks off the top to get it back together," Dye said of his and others’ efforts.And he's not the only one, his fellow cook Ivey Gordon is also helping out. "We are just like a family; all of us stick together and help each other. We got a good boss man for one thing, so we got to help him," Ivey Gordon, a Southern Lunch employee said.

Nearly everything inside the diner was affected by the fire and that means starting from scratch during the rebuilding process. "We had to strip it down to the block walls. So that means new wiring new plumbing, new everything inside," said Herbie Lohr, owner of Southern Lunch. He says it will be the same restaurant the community has always known when it opens again, with maybe just a few changes. "Maybe with a new theme, maybe the train theme," Lohr said. "We've got the depot area being revitalized; we may stick with the train theme." And while the reconstruction has only just begun, Lohr says he can't wait to be back open again. "We've been here 80 years, and that's a lot of history and we feel we can make a lot more history." If everything goes according to plan, the owners hope to have the restaurant open by the middle of summer.

October 31, 1996

Golden Age resident Gilbert Barbee, 84, one of four men depicted in a painting of Southern Lunch by Dempsey Essick, is being presented a signed reproduction by Dempsey as well as the nursing home.

Mr. Barbee worked for over 40 years at the restaurant.

Dempsey Essick Studio
2144 Rowe Road
Lexington, NC 27295-0572
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