Tummy Yummy gets the mayorial seal of approval

by Jordan Green

Members of the press had sat through the minutiae of zoning changes at a Greensboro City Council meeting in late January hoping elected officials would reveal something more about the misdeeds of the police department under the leadership of the departed Chief David Wray. When the meeting broke so the council could go into executive session the mayor summoned a reporter with a tip about a subject more wholesome than the doings of local law enforcement.

Go check out this restaurant on Spring Garden Street called ‘Tummy Yummy,’ Mayor Keith Holliday said.

Ever trying to promote industry large and small in his beloved city the genial mayor has become a champion of Tummy Yummy, a restaurant owned by Celeste and Richard Hamilton that features a bright yellow décor laden with cultural artifacts of the fifties and an affordable menu to match with such items as hot dogs, homemade milkshakes and Brunswick stew.

The mayor grew up working behind the counter at his family’s hardware store just three blocks down the street, which might account for his loyalty to Tummy Yummy. His sister, who is known to order the restaurant’s stacked salads to go, still runs the family store.

Mayor Holliday is generally a Saturday customer, says co-owner Celeste Hamilton, but on a recent Tuesday he dropped in for a late lunch.

‘“He eats two hot dogs with mustard and chili, a bag of plain chips and sweet tea,’” she says, ‘“and he puts hot sauce on his hot dogs.’”

Tummy Yummy shares a few menu items, not to mention three letters in its name with a more established Spring Garden Street institution down the street in UNCG territory. The other restaurant, whose reputation is also built in part around its hot dogs, is Yum Yum Better Ice Cream. Tummy Yummy is undoubtedly the young Turk in this match-up, entering the contest only three and a half years ago.

‘“There’s a rivalry there, for sure,’” says Caitlin Birney, a 21-year old UNCG student who came to Greensboro from Massachusetts via Virginia, and works three afternoons a week at Tummy Yummy.

The mayor was once a Yum Yum’s loyalist, but switched allegiances because of the shorter distance from the family store, Celeste Hamilton says. She hints that Tummy Yummy’s beef dogs give her establishment a bit of an edge.

The Hamiltons are scrappers for sure.

Celeste Hamilton always wanted a restaurant, and her husband turned out to be pretty handy fixing places up and starting businesses.

‘“I worked at a place called Mother Subs when I was pregnant with my daughter up in Pennsylvania,’” says Celeste, who is now 48. ‘“There were three of us waitresses that were pregnant at the time. Bartending, waitressing, managing ‘— I’ve done it all.’”

Richard Hamilton worked at Guilford Mills on West Market Street, leaving shortly before the old textile plant closed its doors. At one time he was working three jobs simultaneously, Celeste Hamilton says, including a family business called Remember Me Carpet Cleaners.

The couple opened Cheap-O Video next door about eight years ago.

‘“We opened the video store with less than five thousand dollars,’” Celeste says. ‘“This restaurant, he built it himself. It used to be a beauty salon. There was no counter, no carpet. He redid the walls.’”

Richard Hamilton is an Elvis fan, and the King’s presence is certainly felt in the building, his spirit being represented by framed vinyl on the walls and a cardboard cutout of El dressed in a gold lamé suit grinning at the end of the bathroom hallway.

The décor tends more towards Vegas-style kitsch than Memphis rockabilly authenticity. Sinatra also gets a nod with a gold-plated and framed edition of his ‘“My Way’” 45 gracing the wall with the other records. And hanging above the plate-glass window facing the street are two plastic slot machine tops adorned with blinking lights ‘— one a study of goofy flowers declaring ‘“Groovy Baby!’” and the other featuring a serious-looking Elvis and letters spelling ‘“Jailhouse Rock’” ‘—’ that Richard bought off eBay.

The restaurant’s devotion to the King not surprisingly extends to the gustatory with the inclusion of a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich ‘— Elvis’ favorite ‘—’ on the menu. Other staples ‘— the ‘“rib-B-que sandwich w/ chips,’” ‘“sugar free butter pecan ice cream’” and ‘“country style beef steak w/ mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet kernel corn [with] toasted bun’” among them ‘— are lovingly advertised with thick black magic marker scrawled on brightly colored pieces of poster board.

‘“My husband, he likes Elvis more than I do,’” Celeste says. ‘“Now, if only we can get it rocking and rolling.’”

The students, aside from Birney and her friends, haven’t yet discovered Tummy Yummy, but several Greensboro Department of Transportation employees tearing up the roadway outside are happily tracking in the concrete.

In the early afternoon following the lunch rush and preceding the mayor’s mid-day constitutional, a contented mood of fellow feeling prevails at the counter where three citizens of the city take their nourishment. On the left sits a bearish looking fellow with a full beard finishing his plate and minding his business. Next to him an elderly man with a sparkplug build and sleeves of tattoos over his forearms listens unobtrusively to a woman in a long flowery skirt.

The moment seems frozen in time as she smokes and talks, waving a hand and exhaling to punctuate the testimonial.

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