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Backroad Travels: Wolf River Cafe shares Rossville square with new neighbors

ROSSVILLE, Tenn. — When Betty Salmon opened the Wolf River Cafe in Rossville's town square in 1989, people told her it would never work.

"When I opened this place people thought I had lost my mind,"  Salmon said.

But almost 30 years later, her down-home restaurant is hopping — and lately, so is the town square around it.

Located in Fayette County a few miles east of Collierville, Rossville is tiny, but boasts a historic district and about a half-dozen storefronts next to the railroad and near a boat landing on the Wolf River.

Salmon said that people from all around the Mid-South began coming to her cafe. On a recent day, a group of travelers from The Netherlands stopped in thanks to a recommendation.

"I mean people come here from everywhere. It's just been a blessing," Salmon said.

As a lifelong Rossvillian, Salmon said her overall goal has been to help people realize that Rossville is just a good place to live and to start a business.

"It's been nice to have some other people besides me," Salmon said. "To share the square with me."

The Small Town Fever

In 2015, Joe Paul renovated a Rossville storefront and kitchen for his award-winning Papi Joe's Tennessee Pepper Sauce.

Paul said the 100-year-old building was perfect for his growing business.

"I'm artisan, I'm small town, I'm local so I wanted a place like this," Paul said. "Because this is what I am."

Paul started with his pepper sauce and has now added a barbecue sauce and a Bloody Mary mix but because the of the growth of his sauces he's had to move into his own kitchen.

Paul said he looked at lots of other locations but settled on the historic district of Rossville because he loved what came with small towns.

"I like the fact that people walk in here they may, just like you all, may or may not know what I am but when they come in we have a good experience and they leave with or without a product," Paul said.

For sisters McLain Craig and Salem Baker, of the new Halo salon located next door to Paul's building, it was a simple decision.

"This sort of fell in our lap because Rossville is booming," Craig said as she worked on a client's hair.

"Booming" might be an overstatement for Rossville. The Census Bureau says the town's population grew 58 percent in the last 10 years — from 518 residents to 818.

Still, the salon has been open for a year and Craig said they've already grown enough that they are looking for more stylists.

The sisters said they don't live in Rossville but that it was central to each of their homes.

A Friendly Place

Being one of the very few places to eat in Rossville, the Wolf River Cafe has become a hub for visitors and regulars alike.

Salmon is often the one behind the cash register, often found chatting up the regulars or visitors who came from out of town to visit her little cafe.

The cafe opens its doors for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and usually closes its doors around 8 p.m. but Salmon suggests visitors who come should be ready to be patient.

Due to the small building and high demand it takes them a bit to turn a table.

"Be patient. We get our food out as fast as we can and it takes us a little while to turn our tables but just be patient and we hope they enjoy the food," Salmon said.

Salmon said that because the considerable wait time on Friday and Saturday nights they often suggest customers enjoy the scenery around the lake or visit her side business, the In High Cotton gift shop.

Her one request for the growing square: "To not grow to big. I guess I'm selfish but I just want to keep the small town atmosphere."