Dahlonega’s Smith House still going after more than 100 years

Family style dining at The Smith House.
(Courtesy of The Smith House)

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
Family style dining at The Smith House. (Courtesy of The Smith House)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The family-owned Smith House Inn and restaurant in Dahlonega is more than 100 years old, but the land and the original building date back to Frank Hall, who built a home there in 1898. Hall had moved to Dahlonega after the Civil War to oversee some of the local mills involved in the mining of gold.

In 1922, Henry and Bessie Smith purchased Hall’s property and opened a boarding house. The Smith House became known for Bessie’s cooking, with offerings such as buttermilk fried chicken, country ham and fresh vegetables.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In 1946, the Fry family bought the property from the Smiths, and hired Fred and Thelma Welch to run the restaurant.

The Welches took over the Smith House in 1970, and since then the family has owned, operated and expanded the business, which includes lodging in addition to the restaurant. Their only child, Freddy Welch, now is the patriarch of the family.

“I was born in 1948. If someone asks me how long I’ve been here, I say too damn long,” Welch quipped one afternoon on a tour of the restaurant. “I’ve been running it for 55 years. It’s either dedication or stupidity. I can’t figure out which one.”

Welch’s daughter, Freida Welch-Bafile, has worked alongside her father and her mother, Shirley, since grade school. Now, her husband, Mike Bafile, and their son, Evan, are part of the family business, too.

“We have guests who remember my grandparents,” Welch-Bafile said. “They retired in the mid-’80s, but my grandfather still worked here until his death. My mom and dad are second generation. Me and my husband are third generation. My son is fourth generation, and we have a grandchild who is fifth generation.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The main dining room is located in the basement of the Smith House, and what once was a dirt floor is now sealed concrete.

Visitors line up for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. There’s dinner 3:30-7:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m-7:30 p.m. Saturday, and the Sunday menu runs 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

“It had two or three tables to start out,” Welch said. “It kept growing, when people started traveling a whole lot more. We had about 80 seats, plus another 22. Now, we have 144 in the back room, 72 in the one beside it, a carriage room with 60, and another room that seats about 40. So, all in all, it’s about 300 seats or so.”

On the menu, you’ll find the famous fried chicken, plus the likes of pot roast and vegetables, fried okra, green beans, collards, mashed potatoes and creamed gravy, macaroni and cheese, and homemade yeast and cinnamon rolls.

“It used to be all you can eat, but the price of things has gotten crazy,” Welch said, shaking his head. “We’ve had to adjust our menus a whole lot.”

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In 2015, Welch-Bafile wrote and self-published “The Smith House History Cookbook” ($19.95), telling the story of the hotel and restaurant. The book is packed with recipes, including Smith House Southern fried chicken.

“The fresh chicken just came in this morning,” Welch-Bafile said. “We’re still battering it in the buttermilk and rolling it in flour. That’s the same recipe that Bessie Smith used. The only thing that’s different is that she went out to her chicken coop and plucked the chicken herself.”

Along with food and lodging, the Smith House has become known for the mine shaft that was discovered in the basement during a major renovation.

“The vein is known as red gold, and it’s 99.9% pure,” Welch-Bafile noted. “That’s why all the miners came to Dahlonega back in the 1800s. If you take that out and crush it and pan it, there’s your gold.”

The Smith House. 84 S. Chestatee St., Dahlonega. 706-725-8148, smithhouse.com

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