The Genteel Rebirth of the Blue Willow Inn

by Kari Apted

The Blue Willow Inn has served many purposes since it was built in 1917. It has been a private residence, church, social hall and restaurant. Closed in 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated existing financial problems, the iconic restaurant has new ownership and a new chef vowing to keep most things the same. 

Most longtime residents of Social Circle and surrounding cities have a Blue Willow Inn story. The majority of my trips to the neoclassic Greek Revival mansion were to socialize with my writers’ group. We were a bunch of sweet and sassy southern ladies—and a few gentlemen—with a shared affinity for the written word and the home cooking we grew up on. There was no better place to celebrate my 40th birthday than surrounded by my husband, children, sisters, parents and beloved grandmother, who’s now baking cornbread for Jesus. 

During the Blue Willow Inn’s heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, up to 4,000 visitors strolled through its majestic front doors each week. Famous guests included Louis Grizzard, Helen Mirren, Carroll O’Connor and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. It was not a problem to wait for a table because it meant we got to enjoy the sprawling front porch, where we glided in the white rocking chairs and wished our front gardens were as lovely as theirs. 

I was fortunate to meet with the original owner, Billie Van Dyke, and she was kind enough to leave me her recipes.

Chef Carmenia Tyrus

So many of us were dismayed when we heard our beloved restaurant was a casualty of the pandemic. I dug online to find their recipe for fried green tomatoes with red tomato chutney so I could try to recreate it at home. I succeeded—sort of. My concoction was good but certainly not Blue-Willow-Inn good.

This could be the year that I, and everyone else with sweet Blue Willow Inn memories, can visit our lovely friend on North Cherokee Street again. Chef Carmenia Tyrus and several investors are working to bring the restaurant back to life. Reopening an icon carries a lot of weight, but Tyrus believes she can rise to the challenge. Already a community icon for the soul food dishes she serves at Musulyn’s International Cuisine in Covington, Tyrus sees this venture as an opportunity for more people to enjoy her classic Southern cuisine. 

Tyrus plans to return to the southern buffet model that worked so well for the award-winning restaurant before. Some recipes will be the same, while others will be Tyrus’ unique creations. 

“When you read the comments on the Facebook page, you see that customers hope things won’t change,” Tyrus said. “I was fortunate to meet with the original owner, Billie Van Dyke, and she was kind enough to leave me her recipes. I do plan on using them and keeping the same style to make the people happy.” She plans to keep both of her restaurants going and will be back and forth between the two. “The Blue Willow Inn and Musulyn’s are two different concepts,” she said, explaining that there is strong demand for each establishment. Currently, she and the investors are in the process of obtaining permits, including building permits for renovation. However, she insists that any changes will be cosmetic.

Previous slide
Next slide

“The building itself is beautiful,” she said. “It just needs touch up, paint, landscaping—nothing major.” 

One of Tyrus’ business partners continues to monitor the Blue Willow Inn’s Facebook page, and she suggests interested patrons visit it for news on the grand reopening. As for me, I will be checking it often and plan to be first in line for those fried green tomatoes.

Click here to read more stories by Kari Apted. 

Related Stories

Our Own Slice of Americana
Cooking Up a Legacy
Natalie’s Creamed Corn
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *