Photo submitted by Buddy Stuart.Photo submitted by Buddy Stuart.Photo submitted by Buddy Stuart.

Shorty’s B-B Café

Recently, I heard of a local conversation about popular restaurants in Willow Springs from days-gone-by that no longer exist. From personal dining experiences in the 1950s and ‘60s, a half-dozen come to mind, and Shorty’s B-B Café is one at the top of the list.
Shorty’s occupied a prime location on Main Street, and before the highway bypass outskirted downtown in the late 1960s, Main Street was also a federal highway, the combination of Highways 60 and 63. 
Willow Springs only had two traffic signals: a yellow caution light overhanging the highway at Main and Center Streets, and one block east, a blinking red four-way stoplight over the intersection of Main and Harris Streets.
Situated on the north side of Main Street, less than a half-block east of Center Street, Shorty’s advertised its location with a bold sign mounted high and extending from the front of the restaurant. The sign, no doubt, served as a beacon to hungry travelers passing through town in either direction.
The traffic signals provided the added benefit of slowing the traffic and increasing the time for drivers to decide to stop. Shorty’s grandson Buddy Stuart (WSHS, 1965), who worked at the restaurant before the bypass, recalls truckers stopping to eat.
 
I have several general memories about Shorty’s B-B Café, such as a regular hamburger costing twenty-five cents, but a “hamburger deluxe” was a nickel more because it had lettuce and tomato. Frankie Grogan Beaird (WSHS, 1958) says in her sophomore and junior years she and friends could go to Shorty’s “and have a hamburger, chips, and a soda for a quarter.”
 
More specifically, I remember two business meetings I had there as a teenager. When I was a freshman in high school, I met Paul Hunter, the Holsum Bread routeman, outside Shorty’s at six a.m. one Saturday to apply for a job. After some salary negotiation, he hired me on the spot. The second, when I was a sophomore, I met Harry Herman, (classmate Joy Herman’s father) one weekday, as he sat at the crowded lunch counter, to hire him to construct a coffin. I’ll explain.
 
The theme for that year’s Fall Fiesta was movies, and each class would build a parade float reflecting that theme. The Class of ’65, in a not-so-inspired moment, to which I contributed, chose the horror film “Premature Burial” for our float, and we needed a coffin. Mr. Herman, as I recall, had a perplexed expression, but he agreed to take on the task. 
 
Although his craftsmanship was good, our float came in last place. Some of the judges thought our float was morbid. Nevertheless, our class won the overall competition because we raised more money, which was a factor in determining the ultimate winner, through car washes and bake sales.
 
I have occasionally wondered about the origin of the name, Shorty’s B-B Café. Folks did not call it the B-B Café; they called it Shorty’s. My curiosity was never sufficient to investigate until writing this article. 
 
I contacted classmate Buddy Stuart, whose grandfather, Orval “Shorty” Stuart, was the proprietor of the eponymous café. It turns out, the origin of the name had also been a mystery to Buddy for some time. 
 
Buddy says, “My grandparents, Shorty and Irene Stuart, owned and operated the B-B Cafe in Willow for many years. I have wondered and have been asked many times where the ‘B-B’ brand name came from. I had asked my grandpa about it, but he never gave me an answer. 
 
“After all these years, I stumbled across the answer while doing some family tree research, and with the considerable help of my aunt Nadine, Shorty and Irene's daughter, who lives in Kansas City.”
 
Originally, “The cafe was owned by my Great Uncle Elmer Greene's mother, Mary Belle Baughman Greene. After Mary Belle died, Uncle Elmer operated it for a short time, but then sold it to my grandpa. Simple story: Belle Baughman, my great uncle’s mother's middle names is where B-B came from. Who knew?” 
 
The complexity of the answer to the mystery might explain why Shorty never detailed it for his grandson. But as the late-great, news commentator Paul Harvey might have said: Now, you know the rest of the story.
 
Buddy also provided a timeframe. “Shorty (1903-1978) operated the B-B from (circa) very early 1950s through the 1960s, at which time the café was sold to Diane Jeffrey’s mother. Prior to that, in the 1940s, I think, Shorty operated Shorty’s Café.” Buddy indicated this restaurant was further east on Main, on the south side, near North Walnut. 
 
During Buddy’s junior and senior years, he worked parttime at the restaurant, and says, “Besides the good food, what I distinctly remember was the hustle and bustle, and rubbing shoulders with many of the community’s business and civic leaders who came to the café, particularly early in the morning for a cup of coffee which cost five cents!” 
 
Buddy cited examples of those business and civic leaders who frequented Shorty’s: Glenwood Myers [Ferguson’s Clothing], Dick Ottinger [Padgett’s Hardware] Robert Curtis, Sr. [Curtis Clothing Store], Sloan Garrett [Garretts’s Grocery], Max Benton [Willow Springs Auto Parts], Etcyl Smith [Smith Insurance Agency], Frank Hicks [U.S. Post Office, but before that he operated a grocery store across Main from Shorty’s], Sadie Ruth Ferguson [Fergson’s Drug Store], and Jac Zimmerman [Willow Springs News].”
 
To say Shorty’s was a popular restaurant is an understatement, so it is no surprise that Buddy recalls, “At that time, the Rotary Club had its weekly meetings in a large room in the rear of the B-B Café, and I helped Grandad with the meal service provided.” 
 
The Hon. Duane Benton, Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (WSHS, 1968) has childhood memories of Shorty’s, from when he assisted his father Max at Willow Springs Auto Parts, directly across the street. Judge Benton says, “I, working there after school and Saturdays, many times carried two or three coffees across the street from Shorty’s, dodging the traffic and trying to spill only a little. Also, when I had an evening event, I was allowed to eat out at Shorty’s for supper—by myself!”
 
As a personal sidenote, Judge Benton reminded me of a connection I had with his dad’s store. “You wore the ‘36’ baseball jersey that had ‘Willow Springs Auto Parts’ across the back.” And I thought my memory was good!
 
If I had a time machine, I would zoom back to Shorty’s when the men were having coffee to hear their conversations: of the weather, sports, politics, and, maybe, how that new bypass would hurt downtown businesses. 
 
My thanks to Buddy Stuart for sharing the information about his family history and Shorty’s B-B Café. 
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