Conway treasure may be gone, but sweet memories remain

By Don Bingham

Our communities are certainly known for their  quality in products and services. Among these “goods and services” would be the unending array of hospitality in the food industry. While musing over the past 50 years, I remembered some classic offerings from time-honored establishments and reminisced as to how much I have missed many of their delicious offerings. One such establishment was thriving just after World War II, and for those of us who recall the delightful downtown cafe, it was called the Co-Ed Cafe. Its phone number? 67.

In doing research for this article, I was able to contact many locals who recall this unique cafe and remember many wonderful times at the Co-Ed Cafe. One of these is Sue Hassel, the daughter of some of the owners. 

“My parents, Harold and Clynell Cummins, along with Harold’s brother and wife, bought the Co-Ed Cafe after WWII from Mr. Guy Maxey and ultimately became sole owners,” she said.

It was located in the Halter Building on Oak Street. Next door was Dyer Butcher Shop, and across the alley on the other side was J.C. Penney. Ben Franklin’s Five & Dime was across Oak Street.

Upon entering the cafe, the customer would be greeted with a candy counter, cigar case, and a cash register for payment. Homemade chili was 50 cents a bowl. A massive wooden counter extended all the way to the back, with stools bolted to the floor. A Wurlitzer jukebox was near the front, with tables and chairs in the middle space.

“My dad would walk to town every day at 5 a.m. to prepare breakfast for the breakfast guests,” Hassel said. Open seven days a week until 10 p.m., Sunday was their busiest time. Harold did the cooking and baking. There were no dishwashing machines back then and a friend of the owner, named Vanteen, was the revered dishwasher. Clynell managed the front of the cafe and ran the cash register. She would stay to help until the Cummins’ children were out of school, and then she would return to help clean up and close. A vacation was never taken during the 30 years of the Cummins’ ownership, and most Sunday afternoons were dedicated to mopping the floor and putting away the ice from the ice machine. Everyone who remembers the cuisine will tell you that the Co-Ed Cafe was famous for its chili, cinnamon rolls, and pies, along with its plate lunches and sandwiches. 

“I remember Dad was so concerned when it was necessary to raise the price of coffee,” Hassel said. “Dad was worried about losing customers because the way to do it was to double the cost of a cup from 5 cents to 10 cents!”

During the ’80s and ’90s, it was my privilege to have a cooking segment at noon on a Little Rock television network, and often I was given the delight of hosting wonderful cooks. The Cummins were among our special guests and presented their chili and cinnamon rolls for the viewers. The cooking segment was sponsored by Kroger, and the company printed the recipes and placed them throughout all the Kroger grocery stores in the state of Arkansas.

As I enjoyed the thoughts of the Co-Ed Cafe, I also remembered the following food establishments that brought such joy to our community: Dog-N-Suds, Hidden Valley Catfish House, Clarence Day’s Grocery and Feed Store, Tommy’s Restaurant, Ed Bradley’s Bakery inside of Simon’s Grocery, Gresham’s Grocery, Frank Brannan’s Drive-In, Clements Donuts, and Cecil and Bertha Bell’s restaurant in the Holiday Inn, just to name a few.

We have such a rich history and much to be thankful for in the legacy of great foods in the 501 area code!

Cummins’ Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup pecans

1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon clove

melted butter

Spread the butter on dough, sprinkle mixture, roll triangle (big end first). Stretch and twist, cut, place in pan, and let rise double. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Drizzle top with butter, powdered sugar, and water mixture.

Harold’s Co-Ed Cafe Chili

Boil 5 pounds chili meat for 30-40 minutes until cooked down, but not dry. Skim grease. Cook 1 pound pinto beans until done.

5  heaping tablespoons chili powder

5 heaping tablespoons paprika

2 heaping tablespoons ground cumin

1 heaping tablespoon oregano

5 heaping tablespoons cracker meal

salt and pepper to taste

Spoon liquid off meat a little at a time; add two 8-ounce cans tomato sauce, adding them to the dry ingredients. Stir until well-blended. Add beans and seasoning mixture to meat. Cook 3-4 minutes stirring constantly.

Cummins’ Light Rolls

1 cup milk

6 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup Crisco

1 cup very warm water

2 packages dry yeast

2 eggs (slightly beaten)

5 or 6 cups flour

Scald milk, stir in sugar, salt and shortening. Cool to lukewarm. Measure very warm water into a mixing bowl, sprinkle in yeast. Stir until dissolved. Stir in lukewarm milk mixture, eggs and flour (3 or 4 cups). Beat until smooth. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough. Place in a greased bowl large enough to rise to double size. Grease top with melted butter. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to one hour. Punch dough down and add more flour if needed to handle well. Knead it in the bowl to remove air. Place on a floured board and roll to 1/2 inch thick and cut with a cutter and place in pans and grease tops again with melted butter. Let rise for 45 minutes. Bake in a 375-degree oven until brown. Makes 3 dozen.

Don Bingham
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