Chester County

You don’t find places like this anymore. You just don’t.

Brenda’s Kitchen sits off Highway 45 in Chester County, Tennessee. It’s a tiny restaurant, located next to the Tractor Supply. The kind of under-the-radar joint that serves country food. Not “country-style” food. Not “home-style” food. But real-people food.

It’s an average Wednesday. Lunch rush. The parking lot is full of muddy Fords and Chevys. Which is a good sign. You couldn’t fit a bicycle in this parking lot edgewise.

I walk inside. Paneled walls. Vinyl tablecloths. The place is adorned in Chester County High School colors of blue and white. Go Eagles.

Most customers either have white hair or none at all. There are several pairs of Velcro shoes. You see a lot of camouflage. Boots galore. I count six pairs of overalls in this joint.


This room smells like coffee and bacon and chocolate cake. Pie coolers hum. A TV plays the news. Old men in the corner are dog cussing politicians. There is a sign on the wall which reads, “No profanity.”

Miss Brenda is seated at a table, sipping tea, watching it all. She is lean, with cotton hair and an easy smile. Whenever a customer enters, she greets them only with her eyes.

This is a little town. Everybody knows everybody. The servers know what customers want before they enter. Because that’s the thing about towns like this. In a small town, whenever you don’t know what you’re doing, everyone else does.

Brenda’s Kitchen has been around for 17 years. She started this place after she retired. She had always wanted to have a restaurant.“Guess I just like to feed people,” she says. “Or maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.”

The menu is elegant, but uncomplicated. All the classics are here. Today Brenda is serving pot roast with potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Greens. Black eyed peas. She even has chess pie.

You have to drive a long way into the sticks to find chess pie anymore.

Miss Brenda is 77 years young. And today she is on dishwashing duty. Her hands are weathered. The thin skin on her forearms is painted with the bruises of age. Her fingers are waterlogged from rooting around in dishwater. It’s all part of the gig.

“Miss Brenda feeds half of the old men in this county,” a customer tells me. “Sometimes, old guys will call poor Brenda if the cook makes their eggs wrong, and Miss Brenda will drive up here to cook their eggs. She spoils us.”

“Brenda’s Kitchen is the hub,” remarks another customer. “You come here to find out what’s going on, who’s getting married, who’s leaving town, who’s running around on who.”

But to an outsider, this restaurant is more. This place is downright Rockwellian. The kind of establishment that is disappearing from our national landscape, only to be replaced by another Starbucks. Or worse: Best Buy.

Even so, it takes a lot of work to keep a place like this going. And Brenda isn’t exactly in the summer of her youth.

Last October, Brenda was at her husband’s cardiologist appointment. Her husband, 80, still works in the scrapyard full-time. While the cardiologist was inspecting his heart, Brenda began experiencing what felt like heartburn. So the cardiologist checked her out.

Turns out Brenda was having a heart attack, right in the office. She had three heart attacks that day.

Soon, she was undergoing open-heart surgery. Doctors were cracking her chest open and throwing around words like, “coronary artery bypass graft.”

They brought her home, and Miss Brenda was a mess. She couldn’t bathe herself, her 80-year-old husband had to carry her into the shower, wearing his clothes, and wash her.

But here’s the thing.

Not long thereafter,where do you think Brenda was found? She was back at work. Right here. In this kitchen. Doing dishes. Cooking eggs. Making this place fit for the cover of “The Saturday Evening Post.”

“Yeah,” Brenda says, “I know I should probably quit. But I’m too stubborn to quit. This is what I do, I feed people. Everybody has something they were made to ‘do,’ you know?”

Which is why I am telling you to visit Miss Brenda’s sometime.

Because this is what I do.


  1. Toni - August 17, 2023 4:17 am

    Thank you for this, Sean. I’ll be in the area soon, to visit the grave of a dear friend who died in a car accident last Friday. After I cry myself to exhaustion, I’ll go see Ms. Brenda, and I’ll tell her you sent me.

  2. Forest - August 17, 2023 1:51 pm

    Poplar Dawg, Dadeville. Ask for Jeremy. Pretty good story.

  3. Julie Hall - August 17, 2023 2:23 pm

    Thank God for those who do what they are called to do!

  4. Amy Quinn - August 18, 2023 11:02 am

    More stories, please, Mr. Dietrich!!

  5. Cathy Moss - August 18, 2023 11:46 am

    Wish I could go right now. In this chaotic world Miss Brenda’s is a sanctuary for all who enter. Chess pie? Food for the Gods❤️

  6. Peggy Murphy - September 14, 2023 2:05 am

    Reminds me of Dot’s in Hillsboro, Alabama! She has Chess Pie, too. I love your stories! Alfa never had better commercials.


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