Backroads Travels: ‘Middle of nowhere’ catfish restaurant turning 80

SHILOH, Tenn. — Nestled alongside the Tennessee River for the past 80 years is a place known for its hospitality and a great plate of fried catfish.

Hagy’s Catfish Hotel turns 80 years old this year.

Third generation co-owner Jim Hagy says the family-owned business strives to maintain its homemade quality and humble beginnings.

“What amazes me is that my grandparents, at the end of the Depression, made the decision to open a restaurant that is somewhat in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “And what’s even more amazing is we’ll feed thousands of people every week now.”

The History of the Catfish Hotel

The Hagy family first landed in Shiloh in 1835. That’s when Henry and Polly Hagy laid claim to several acres and began to build a farm and family.

More than a century later, during the battle of Shiloh, part of their land and a little shack were occupied by the Union soldiers.

Years later, Norvin and Dorothy Hagy enjoyed entertaining friends at a fish fry on the property.

In 1938, Norvin Hagy held one of these cookouts for then-Gov. Gordon Browning. According to Jim Hagy, after trying some homemade fried catfish and hushpuppies, the governor encouraged the couple to open a restaurant.

Hagy says in a leap of faith they took the governor’s advice and opened the Catfish Hotel. The place was named after the guests who would come to their cookouts by boats but would spend the night because it was unsafe to travel on the river at night.

The Catfish Hotel today

As one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in the United States Hagy feels an obligation to provide the same quality.

“Part of that quality is not only the food but the hospitality,” he says.

Especially when he knows that when people come to visit them, they have driven from out of town.

The distance doesn’t stop regulars like Darin Frazier, who can’t even remember when he and his wife started going to Hagy’s.

“Mainly the food, the food is great, plus the service and the atmosphere is just wonderful,” Frazier said.

Barbara McAfee, one of the co-managers, says it is customers like Frazier who have blessed her for more than 40 years of working at the restaurant.

“We’ve met a lot of friends and family and it really blesses us,” she says.

McAfee says that they get between 700 to 800 visitors on the weekend. Their busiest day is Mother’s Day, when they will usually get more than a 1,000 customers.

Hagy’s specializes in — obviously — fried catfish and hushpuppies, but has expanded to other Southern favorites and new plates like catfish tacos.

With a newly renovated building, Jim and the rest of the Hagy’s family are looking forward to bring a taste of history to even more visitors.