Back in business

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

It had a presence on Water Avenue for 30 years, first as The Warehouse, an after-business hours setting; then as Major Grumbles, a popular restaurant with a staff of 25 who prepared, served and catered to lunch and dinner patrons.

Then it closed this summer, leaving a void for the area’s business diners.

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Now, someone is filling that void.

The Restaurant on Grumbles Alley will open its doors as a “new business, offering typical fare of most restaurants of this type,” according to owner Diane Smitherman, who has returned to Selma, her hometown.

A graduate of Parrish High School and the University of Montevallo, her early business experience was in retail, “hard goods such as heaters, fireplaces, etc., managing 20 employees in two stores,” she says. Next she worked as a paralegal and after three years, at age 38, she entered Cumberland Law School, where with corporate law her forte and her previous work experience in business, she explains, “the young law students in my class and I bonded, combining my experience with their enthusiasm. It was fun.”

After graduation from law school she secured a position with HealthSouth, where she remained for 11 years. “But the company was changing, there was a risk in corporate law and I did not want private practice,” she said.

“In Birmingham I was five miles from work, in Selma I’m only three minutes from Wal-Mart and 10 minutes from my father. When you’re young you can’t wait to leave home, when you mature, you can’t wait to come home.”

During her years in Birmingham Diane came home often, “keeping close ties to Mother (the late Ouida Smitherman) who died 10 years ago. And in the past 20 years each time I came home I had an evening ritual at Major Grumbles with Dad (former Mayor Joe Smitherman).

After Grumbles closed, she says, “I used to drive by the empty building and think, remembering I promised myself when I left law, I wouldn’t ever work that hard again. So, riding to Montgomery one day with my friend Martha Strickland, I asked her, ‘should I do this?’

The years of service the Stricklands and the Fredricksons gave this community will always be remembered.

“So, I did it. But I couldn’t have done this without 90 percent of the Grumbles staff returning.”

The staff has been working with the new owner to establish this “new business,” she says “to retain the flavor but move forward.”

Having a vested interest, the staff has cleaned, sanded, waxed, painted, plumbed and tiled, along with their boss, who laughs, “I am like my mother. I get in there and do. My Dad doesn’t know the difference in a screwdriver and a wrench. But I have learned every position in the restaurant, beginning with the dishwasher.”

She is decorating with memorabilia of Selma and all its history, using scenes of old Selma and new Selma, in an inclusive photographic history. Large color shots of the Edmund Pettus Bridge will serve as an icon on one side of the room. On the other side, historic buildings and homes will be displayed.

Of course, there will be a large screen TV for the football people, she says.

The kitchen staff has been working on the menu.

Some dishes will be retained from Major Grumbles, but new dishes and foods are being introduced.

There will be a Kids Menu with chicken fingers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and “nice squishy grilled cheese sandwiches,” Diane says.

New side dishes are being added, among them spinach, baby carrots, baked beans and small fruit bowls.

She is also introducing a heavier sampler platter with chicken strips, shrimp and ribs, and a salad trio with small scoops of chicken salad, potato salad and coleslaw.

On the dessert menu will be homemade cheesecake and banana pudding.