47 years and counting: Local restaurant cooks up Southern classics

William Price

In 1967 husband and wife T.C. and Odella Lee set up shop off West Jones Avenue with the intention of serving Statesboro residents real Southern cooking.

Now, 47 years later, their son Timothy and his wife Barbara run Lee’s Restaurant and keep the tradition of food and family strong.

Once frequented by Georgia Southern University legend Erk Russell himself, Lee’s remains a Statesboro staple.

“We were around pre-integration, pre-McDonald’s and pre-Burger King. The town has changed quite a bit since then,” Timothy Lee, Lee’s Restaurant owner, said.

Lee’s serves up everything your grandmother made and more: candied yams, mac ’n’ cheese, meatloaf, homemade dressing, fried pork chops, lima beans, collard greens, oxtails, cornbread. Yeah, you get the point. And as you should expect, everything is homemade.

“My mother’s slogan that we try to carry on today was, ‘a nice place for nice people.’ Y’all probably think that’s corny now, but we hold to it,” Timothy Lee said.

The restaurant rests on the corner of West Jones Avenue and Johnson Street, off South Main Street in an unassuming, white and weathered building about five minutes drive from campus.

“The main goal when my parents opened up was to serve the local community. You know, pastors, construction workers, students, whoever,” Timothy Lee said.

“If you don’t like us or our food, you don’t pay us. We’re gonna do whatever we can to treat you right,” Barbara Lee said.

Until 1989 Lee’s was serving about 30 customers a day. Around that time Lee’s began reaching out to Georgia Southern students to gain more traction in the community, Timothy Lee said.

“We started serving a lot of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters around that time. That was the first time we really got kids to come in,” Timothy Lee said.

Senior political science major at GSU, Evan Rollins, is a Lee’s veteran.

“There are two memories I’ll have until the day I die: watching my little brother be born, and trying the baked chicken at Lee’s,” Rollins said.

Rollins said, “I think most people view their mom as the best cook in the world. Those people haven’t had Lee’s.”