City Cafe serves as heart of downtown Murfreesboro for over 100 years

Photo by Sabrina Tyson / MTSU Sidelines Archives

Story by LB Rogers / Contributing Writer

On the square of downtown Murfreesboro lives a multitude of old buildings, including a boutique, a hardware store and a little cafe with a history as rich as its delicious Southern cooking.

Murfreesboro doesn’t look much like it did years ago, but the historic town square is still intact.

So, too, is City Cafe.

While the town and the world have drastically changed around it, City Cafe has more or less remained the same for over 100 years. Parking is still slim, the bell still rings when you walk in and the hostess still greets you with the mantra of “welcome to City Cafe, and you can seat yourself.” Although, paying the bills for the cheapest amount possible thanks to Utility Bidder is a luxury that certainly wasn’t available 100 years ago.

The walls still remain embellished with historical pieces and photographs, while the food served tastes like down-home country delicacies. Although the faces have changed, the heart of City Cafe remains the same.

Since its opening in February 1900, the establishment has been a part of the history and the culture of Murfreesboro.

“I’ve been coming here since 1953,” said Nelson Smotherman definitively, as he grabs a typed list of City Cafe owners hanging on the wall in a black plastic frame. “This man,” he says pointing at a name, “his wife was my third grade teacher.”

He points to another name before saying,“I worked at the post office with him.”

City Cafe has become part of routine for a lot of locals and MTSU students. Their comfort food and modest prices make it an easy place to visit every day. The sense of community and connectivity to Murfreesboro even won them a Ruthies Award — an award given to voted on establishments in Rutherford County — for the “Best Place to Hear Gossip” for the last three years.

“There is no telling what those walls have heard,” said manager Carol Lands. “I don’t even want to know.”

Not only does City Cafe diligently serve locals in their business, they also work to promote other Murfreesboro businesses. You can find hometown business spotlights on their Facebook page nearly every day with a hashtag “#HowDoUDoLocal?” showcasing Murfreesboro-grown businesses like grocery stores, contractor services and boutiques.

“We try to use our local people whenever we can,” said City Cafe owner Tammy Greer proudly. “We use MTSU milk, we use JR’s Foodland for our produce, we have even been known to get stuff at the farmer’s market to use in-house.”

The freshness is evident in their delicious vegetable sides, which perfectly accompany City Cafe’s lunch combinations. City Cafe is one of the only restaurants in the state that still offers the historic lunch plate — the meat and three, also known as an entree and three sides. Their creamy potato salad, tasty creamed corn, flavorful green beans and classic fried okra make the ideal pairing to their selection of tasty southern entrees.

“Most of our recipes are from our grandmothers and family,” Greer explained. “Everyone seems to like that better. It’s just familiar.”

Perhaps even more popular than their meat and three, however, is the renowned City Cafe breakfast.

They pull out all the stops to provide their guests the ultimate southern breakfast experience. For less that $9, a platter of bacon, sausage, country ham, eggs, hashbrowns, fried apples, biscuits and gravy will be served to you with a smile. The aroma of bacon seems to fill the streets and lead in hungry bellies from when they open at 6 a.m. until they stop serving breakfast at 1 p.m.

“I come in for breakfast and then I come back in for lunch,” Smotherman admits. “Every single day.”

Smotherman is not alone.

City Cafe is an integral piece of Murfreesboro’s history and culture. It has been the dining room for locals and visitors for over 100 years. The comfort food and comforting company consistently keeps people coming back.

Murfreesboro would not be quite the same without the little cafe nestled in tightly on the square underneath the sound of the historic courthouse bell.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email

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