Annie#039;s Restaurant celebrates 25th year

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2005

Annie's celebrated 25 years on Saturday, but owner Annie Finlayson said the celebration was mild because of Hurricane Dennis lurking just off the Alabama Gulf Coast.

"When (Hurricane) Ivan came through in September it blew over our sign out front," said Finlayson, referring to the large, wooden rectangular sign that brilliantly proclaims 'Annie's' in bright yellow. "It took us three months to get it back up. We had people traveling south that would go two blocks before they realized they'd missed Annie's."

Finlayson said the signs - three located north of Luverne and two south - help draw customers in. The food and friendly service keeps them coming back.

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"There's people that always stop at Annie's when they're heading south on vacation," she said. "We know them like we know the local people here in Luverne."

Finlayson and her husband, Jack, moved to Luverne in 1970 from Michigan. They operated a mobile home and furniture business, all the while paying attention to the steady flow of traffic that trickled south through Crenshaw County along Highway 331.

"There was nothing. No Hardee's. No McDonald's," she said. "The Chicken Shack was open and there was a little Dairy Queen, but that was it."

In 1980, they built Annie's from the ground up, serving two main dishes - barbecue and fried chicken. Finlayson said just prior to the grand opening, she and the employees held a 'practice' workday to ensure a smooth first day of business. That preparation paid off when the doors opened on July 9 of that year.

People were lined up to get a taste of Luverne's newest restaurant.

"We had a crowd," Finlayson recalled.

Finlayson said running the restaurant was mostly 'learning on the go.' In 1984, with her children out of school, she took over management of the restaurant full-time.

Over the years, the menu grew to include seafood, chicken tenders and BBQ ribs. Last month, she said, Annie's sold over 850 pounds of chicken.

"That may not be a lot, but it sounds like a lot for a restaurant of this size. I'm not sure but I think we may have invented the chicken tenders," she said. "I don't know if McDonald's even served them at that time, bite sized liked we did. And then we have all the dips and people are in to dipping foods around here."

Finlayson believes at least 50 percent of her business is carryout orders, especially in the fall and winter when families spend time indoors. Annie's offers a variety of plates for families seeking good food fast.

"We have tried to meet the needs of families on a budget," she said. "Something where it's easy for them to come by the window at Annie's and pick up a family plate."

Finlayson said, above all, it's her employees who have helped make Annie's a success.

"My cooks are people who love to cook," she said. "Some of them have been with me for 20 years. I have good and loyal employees both front and back. They hold this place together like glue."