Picture The Andy Griffith Show. Picture Cheers. Picture everything you find wholesome and quaint and charming. Picture a faded sign with a vintage porky portrait and a parking lot packed with cars beneath. If your heart isn’t already warmed, it will be as soon as you step inside the Dixie Pig diner at 1403 Butternut St.
The Dixie Pig, whose name has no significance aside from its delightful hometown appeal, is a standing tribute to the good old days of Abilene, having been established in 1931. The restaurant is one of Abilene’s registered historical landmarks and offers an authentic family experience that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Originally established as a lunch stand for workers in an ice cream shop across the street, the Dixie Pig was also a popular place for teens and families to visit. Later, the building was torn down and replaced on the same land – and it’s stayed pretty much the same ever since.
The kids who used to walk down the street for lunch are now the same pleasant old men in collared cotton T-shirts and caps who sit around a table together for a short stack or omelet every Tuesday morning – a comfortable, worn-in tradition.
These traditions give the restaurant its charm. Same building, same food, same customers, same owners. Same breakfast bar with stools, same booths, same family atmosphere, same rotary telephone. And no credit cards accepted.
It’s a tradition passed down through generations. Lisa Dabney, whose parents, Ronnie and Barbara Bradshaw, bought the Dixie Pig in 1983, remembers when her grandparents leased the restaurant – and when they would take her out to eat there after church as a child before they owned it. Dabney now works at the restaurant with her parents as well as her brother, who cooks in the kitchen.
Her daughters have also joined in the tradition; Dabney is training her youngest to wait tables, and the other is an expectant mother whose baby is currently the talk of the restaurant.
“It’s all fun ’cause it’s all family,” Dabney says. “You know everybody and everybody knows you.”
Although it used to be a 24-hour diner, the Dixie Pig now offers only breakfast and lunch, both of which are packed almost every morning with faithful regulars, families with their children in tow, young adults with tattoos up their arms and others who come alone just for the company.
A breakfast favorite is the Mr. Pig Omelet, a hearty omelet served with crispy hash browns and toast or homemade biscuits. For lunch the chicken fried steak, catfish or meatloaf are most popular.
“We have one little man who comes every Tuesday for his fish – no tartar sauce,” Dabney says. “We know exactly what he wants.”
For college students, the Dixie Pig means not only a good meal and remarkably good coffee but also a chance to mingle with the older and wiser, to meet the locals and soak in the nostalgia and history.
Jim Hale, who has been eating at the Pig since 1931, remembers when he was 17 – almost 71 years ago – walking to eat lunch every day from his house a few blocks down.
Now he sits every Tuesday morning at the same table with church friends Jack and Charlie, who reminisce about the days during the war when things and people changed. Everything except the Pig.
“For a long time, there wasn’t nothing else out here,” Hale says.
Remembering the early days launches the friends into shared accounts of which businesses were where and who was doing what so many years ago. Hale recalls how much he enjoyed walking to the restaurant for a Pig Sandwich, a BBQ sandwich served with chips, which has remained one of his favorite items on the menu.
Hale and his friends are one of Dabney’s favorite parts of the restaurant.
“The wisdom that you get from everyone; they all want to share,” Dabney says. “I’ve learned more from them than I have anything in school. I think that’s what we don’t do any more; we depend on the computer and we depend on college and everything else, and so we’re losing the wisdom of our older generation.”
Dabney says she has left the restaurant in the past to try something new, but she keeps coming back for people like Jim, Jack and Charlie.
“I love the people,” she says. “I’ve tried to quit. I’ve worked for the attorney general’s office; I’ve worked for businesses. I’ve had people offer to help me go to college. Every time I try to quit, I come back.”