By Patrick Yost
She really doesn’t know the number.
It has been hundreds, maybe more.
Faye Ellen Craft.
If you have ever taken a meal in Madison, eaten at a catered event, bought a hamburger or hot dog at a high school football game, you know the name.
For the past 45 years Faye Ellen Craft has been a constant in the Madison restaurant business and in those years, she says, helping to transform young people into working, contributing adults has been her biggest passion.
“I’m a big believer in second or third chances,” she says. “Sometimes you’ve got to reach down and pick them up. You invest so much of yourself in them.”
Craft started her career as a young, teenage mother working for the bombastic Betty Ervin and her husband M.P. Ervin at the Red Barn restaurant (what is now Happy China).
In those days, Craft says, Betty Ervin, who had an explosion of brilliant red hair to match the bright lipstick she wore every day, demanded hard work from her employees and taught Craft a lesson. “She was one of the people that taught me my work ethic. You came to work,” she says.
Before that, though, Craft helped sell hamburger and hot dogs out of her grandparents store in Bostwick. In the summer, a then pre–teen Faye Craft would help feed field workers. “We used to feed the peach pickers and cotton pickers,” she says. Everybody worked at the store. It was expected.
“It was part of who we where.”
For 17 years Craft worked at the Red Barn, a notable breakfast institution in Madison at the time. It was a place, she laughs, where the stock in trade was “coffee and lies” and as a server and cook and dish washer and anything else the Ervins needed from her, she absorbed the conventional wisdom regarding local current events. “Francis Burge, a retired chief of police, used to say ‘No reason to buy a Madisonian, just ask Faye.’”
After that her career evolved to four years at the Western Sizzling; as associate managers of Gianni’s in 1994 and Tomato Rhumba’s in 1995 and then at the Madison Chop House in 1996, all owned by the then Avado Brands Restaurant Company. In 1997 Craft was hired as general manager of the Madison Chophouse and remained in that position after it was purchased by Bruce Wiener in 2005 and then by Pat and Natalie Reams in 2006.
And last week she announced she’ll work no more.
The woman who has embodied hospitality and, well, love for hundreds of children and even more adults says she is turning her passion to her grandchildren and family. Her last day at the Chophouse will be May 13.
She and her husband Bo Craft, owner of Bo’s Wrecker Service, are going to “go to baseball games and softball games and horse shows that we never got to go to.”
For the past 10 years every fall Faye Craft and the Madison Chophouse fed the Morgan County High School football team prior to every away game. For the past 20 years she has been part of the “grill team” at Morgan County High School football games, a group of men and women who cook hamburgers and hotdogs prior to the game for the concession stand.
She has been a faithful and steady presence at her beloved Gibbs Memorial Baptist Church in Bostwick.
She’s suffered through Tennessee Volunteer losses to Georgia Bulldogs in public, and exulted in the Vols wins, also at the Chophouse on game day Saturdays.
She has worked with the Morgan County High School special needs children on crafting a daily job for the kids at the restaurant and she has relished in their growth. “You should see it,” she smiles in the memory of the children setting up the restaurant. “Being a part of that group is special.”
She marvels that a young man who she used to have to call daily to wake up to come to work, who was on the receiving end of her stern counsel on the importance of responsibility and work ethic stops by the restaurant years later as the director of a large regional company and thanks her. “I’ll never forget what you told me about being responsible,” he told her. “Without you I would have never succeeded.”
And there’s the rub.
Faye Ellen Craft is retiring. She’s resigning from the Morgan County Convention and Visitor’s Board. She resigning from the Morgan County Planning Commission and Morgan County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
She is going to “enjoy life,” she says.
But she will never be able to resign from a legacy of caring, of helping and of providing hope. She has two children and nine grandchildren and she has a host of men and women who she has mentored for nearly the past 50 years.
“If someone in life doesn’t give them a chance, it’s going to get worse,” she says. She says she understands making mistakes and understands working your way out of them.
“I see kids that work here and see their success and I think, ‘I had just a little bit to do with that.’ “
And then she smiles. And if you know Faye, if you have ever taken a meal, eaten at a catered event or bought a hamburger or hot dog at a high school football game, you know that smile, too.