A family's story...
The old saying “as American as apple pie” has never been more fitting when describing the history of Gus Tombras, founder of the Mt. Vernon Restaurant.
At the age of 19, Gus arrived on the shores of NYC with his brother Pete. In 1898, immigration was no easy task so after working 18-hour days, at a grocery store in his native Greece, and making $10.00 per year for 5 years Gus was able to buy 2 passages to the U.S.
Coming from a poor farming family the necessity of using fresh foods to survive echoed through Gus’s life and inspired generations of his family to come.
Gus got a job as a dishwasher and the first thing they fed him was apple pie. That’s all Gus ate for a week and fittingly was the only thing he could say in English. Once again his love for food paves the way. He eventually became a waiter and was able to save a little money.
Gus and Pete moved to Chattanooga in 1905 and opened their first restaurant where they worked together until Pete’s death in 1941. A few restaurants followed before the opening of the Mt. Vernon, two of which were the Manhattan and the Farmers Market. Interestingly the Manhattan was the largest in the city at the time serving a more upscale crowd while the Farmers market served more affordable southern cuisine. The transition was triggered by the depression and it seems that the fusion between the two restaurants has given us Mt. Vernon.
One of Gus’s daughters came down with appendicitis after the depression and as true as it was then as it is today the family turned to fresh food to save the day. Gus bartered fresh vegetables to pay for the operation.
Gus’s passion and vision towards serving fresh locally grown foods continued through the family lineage with the current proprietors, Jeff and Cindy Messinger. Jeff learned the business working as a manager at Mt. Vernon and finding his own passion for food under the mentorship of pastry chef extraordinaire, Ida Kate.
Apple Pie, once again weaves its way into another great American story as Jeff’s love for this sweet delicacy fueled his passion for cooking. Like Gus, he also ate a piece of Apple Pie every day, “I couldn’t go to sleep without a slice.” The use of fresh local ingredients and passion handed down from generation to generation to serve good food from the heart has made Mt. Vernon not only a Chattanooga institution but also a great American tale of freedom and the American dream.