AUBURN — More than 43 years ago, Tom and Marsha Armstrong saw an advertisement in the local newspaper that The Brown House drive-through restaurant was for sale.
“We thought it might be right up our alley,” Marsha said. “We used to eat here all the time. I was 24. Tom was 26. Forty-three-and-a-half years later, here we are!”
Now the Armstrongs have decided it is time for someone else to take over this piece of Auburn history as they are retiring and have listed the business for sale. They hope whoever takes it over will continue to carry on with the popular restaurant’s traditions.
The restaurant first began as a concession stand that was operated by Dallas Claude and Doris Cole at the DeKalb County Free Fall fair in the 1950s, said DeKalb County Historian John Bry.
“It was successful and they decided to make it permanent,” said Bry. The Coles went on to establish the restaurant at its current location on East Ensley Avenue, on top of the old weighing scales of the Hoodelmeier Coal Company, Bry said.
Bry said the Coles “played around” with a recipe for coney sauce until they perfected it. That coney sauce recipe still is used today and it, along with other recipes, will go along with the sale of the restaurant, “so it can continue as it is,” Marsha said. “It’s worked so many years.”
Mr. Cole died in 1961 at age 46 of a heart attack, and The Brown House remained in the Cole family until the Armstrongs purchased it in 1975. They added a front section to the building in 1979 and later remodeled the interior, replacing wood fixtures with stainless steel.
The hot dog grill, bun warmer and shake machine that were in use when the Armstrongs took over the business still are in use today, Marsha said.
While the coney dog is the most popular item on The Brown House menu, other homemade favorites include cole slaw, potato salad and beef barbecue.
“We sell a lot of everything,” Marsha Armstrong said. “Some people love our hamburgers. Some love the coneys.”
Shakes also are popular items, with a different “shake of the week” offered throughout the year. That, the Armstrongs, pointed out, means coming up with 52 different flavors, many of which are concocted by employees who experiment by combining flavors.
The restaurant also offers daily menu specials, with Wednesday’s “coney dog day” being the busiest.
The Armstrongs credit their employees for smooth operation of the business.
Connie Miller has worked at the Brown House for 43 years. Asked why she had stayed around for so long, she cracked a broad grin and joked, “It wasn’t Tom!”
For the Armstrongs, the employees and customers are like family, they agreed.
“We care about them and hear their stories,” Marsha said.
Some customers have purchased Brown House coney dogs to freeze and ship to places as far away as Florida, Arizona and Texas. On a visit back to Auburn, a former exchange student from Paris returned to the restaurant to eat, Tom added.
Reflecting on their decision to retire, the Armstrongs said they are looking forward to enjoying time with their eight grandchildren.
They agreed that consistency, preparing their products with care, cleanliness and friendliness are qualities that ensured The Brown House has continued to thrive for so long.
“It’s our baby. We care about it so much,” Marsha said.
To those who have remained loyal to the business, she said, “Thanks for supporting us for so long. It amazes us that we’ve outlasted so many other restaurants.”