Store's dollar tradition got its start as an aid for Hurricane Katrina evacuees
By Terri Richardson
Sept. 4, 2010 at 6:53 p.m.
JEFFERSON - They're displayed end-to-end and bottom-to-top. Some have George Washington's portrait squared with a "1" in each quadrant.
One has had a baby's face implanted instead and reads, "A little man you can trust." Another proclaims, "I cut work to be here."
And if paper-money could tell stories, there would be thousands to be told from the dollar bills lining the walls of a downtown restaurant.
"People come in all the time and want to hear the story of how we started having dollar bills on the walls," said Judie Ouchley, 67, of Jefferson and owner of Jefferson's Old Fashion Hamburger Store And More.
Even after inspecting the bills for themselves, most still want to know, "Are those real?"
They are, though some of them have taken on signatures, psychedelic patterns from highlighter pens, dates, anniversaries or even proposals.
"Will you marry me, baby?" asks one dollar, while the first dollar ever placed simply declares, "God is Great" with an arrow pointing to it. And they still have plenty of room for more.
Ms. Ouchley became a widow in March, just five months before her 50th wedding anniversary, when her husband Buck Ouchley succumbed to cancer.
"Everybody loved my husband. I miss him so much; 50 years is a long time to be married," she said. "Especially these days."
She calls herself "carrying on" but also, "I'm like my grandmother," she said. "My grandmother was setting out little trees at 80 years old. If that's not forward-looking, I don't know what is."
<strong>How it all began</strong>
Stapling dollar bills to the walls at Jefferson's Old Fashion Hamburger Store And More caught on after the Ouchleys began supporting hurricane victims in 2002, when hundreds of evacuees landed in Jefferson.
"You could just tell they were counting their pennies to figure out what they could get on the menu for their children," said Ms. Ouchley. "So we told them to come back for dinner."
The Ouchleys introduced one family of evacuees to the Rev. George Baker of Trees Baptist Church, who came to the restaurant selling ads for the Shreveport-Bossier Directory of Churches.
"He learned of the situation with the family, and he stayed and talked all evening with them," she said. "Later that week, Reverend Baker came back with children from the church and some dollar bills, marking pens and a staple gun. They wanted to put dollar bills all over our wall to get it started for us."
The Ouchleys had heard of McGuires, a Florida restaurant with more than $500,000 on its walls, and Baker agreed it was a neat idea. He began bringing his wife Betty Baker over every week and they became great friends with the restaurant owners.
"We can help the victims if we have another hurricane," Ms. Ouchley thought at the time the collection of dollars started. But she found out very quickly that removing the dollar bills from the walls would not be possible.
"People come back and look for their dollar bills, and they send their friends to see and take pictures," she said excitedly.
An emotional topic, she also got choked up as she indicated the last $10 placed by the Rev. Baker, who climbed up a ladder and hung two ribbons of dollar bills, lined up in rows of five and dipping from the ceiling. He now has Alzheimer's.
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 Ms. Ouchley was battling third-stage colon cancer and receiving "very intense chemo."
"The people were so wonderful, and the day after Katrina hit, we put our sign up to feed the victims lunch and dinner with money from the register," she said. "The churches around fed them breakfast, and we fed them lunch and dinner for about eight weeks."
Ms. Ouchley described that time as a "wonderful experience" as she saw waves of donations from the community come in to help feed the hurricane victims. And the restaurant is "prepared to do the very same thing" should another disaster happen.
Only this time if they come, they will dine amongst some of the strangest wall paper and a plume of stories, of which this would only be "1."
<strong>Keeping it going</strong>
The Ouchley brand of love is easy to share with the community and it continues on through Ms. Ouchley and her families of staff members and kin.
"There's always an opportunity to help. Someone is always doing something here that requires help from the merchants, and we try to do our part," she said. "We're sympathetic to personal causes and help people get back on their feet by offering them jobs."
The Ouchleys bought the restaurant in 2002, but its site began about 45 years ago as Markos Meat Market.
Remnants of the old market are still visible inside the restaurant from the angled vault of the original building's roof to a door which led into its cooler.
Peppered among the dollar bills are a fan's collection of art and memorabilia. It's easy to see Ms. Ouchley is a devotee of Elvis, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and her grandchildren, one of whom is a body builder and Harvard graduate.
"It grows all the time, and people love to put these dollars on the wall," she said. "The little kids love it and people love the music."
One regular has even memorized the restaurant's rotating play-list of classics and can accurately recall which song is next in line.
"My granddaughter is moving from Dallas to live with me and help me run the business," Ms. Ouchley continued. "We have talked about several things we want to do in 2011, like repairs, to freshen things up."
The dollars will be kept in place, as will a fireplace in the Jefferson room where meetings are often conducted for Relay for Life, the car clubs, Wednesday Rotary Club meetings and the occasional gospel singing group.
Customers will also be able to stay fresh while dining outdoors soon, as a cooling system and improved patio are expected.
The menu is also set to have a bit of a makeover in response to customer requests. In the future, the Hamburger Store might be known as much for fried pies as its burgers and homemade meringue pies.
"And we're going to add more heart-healthy choices like salmon, veggies, brown rice and sushi," she said, saving some big announcements for when they are ready to roll out.
For now, Mary Carr, kitchen manager for the past 18 years, starts with the best quality ingredients and is well-known for her authentic New Orleans muffuletta and pies.
"Usually in a day we'll have 10 people ask about the dollars," said Cynthia Parrish, who has worked at the restaurant two different times and was drawn back to the family atmosphere of the store.
"That's my sister over there," she said, indicating Ms. Carr, who was making orders for the kitchen at one of the tables, covered in a red-and-white checkered cloth, with a vendor.
Ms. Carr has also perfected several sugar-free pies including a delightful lemon, a favorite of James and Margaret Ann Strickland of Marshall, who come in weekly. Its made from real lemons, Ms. Carr said.
Add to these employees Natasha Kenfield, who has been there four years, Dawana Doddson, Dee Brown and Andrew Smith, plus whoever else might be passing through, and you get the Hamburger Store family. Past employees generally come back to eat or check in with Ms. Ouchley and the gang to keep up with their antics.
And in a moment customers may make the place an entertainment haven where employees are consistently amazed by the creativity of such characters as two bikers who ate there this week.
"They were called Dennis the Menace and Big'un. They came in and turned everything up-side-down," said Ms. Parrish.
Before leaving, the pair insisted on giving wait staff and Ms. Ouchley special sandwich hugs, or group hugs.
"Working here, you find out just how special people are," Ms. Ouchley affirmed. "I told them they have to come back often."
One woman also comes in about twice a month to eat and has to give everybody working there a hug before leaving, Ms. Parrish said.
The Jefferson Old Fashion Hamburger Store And More is open 10 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. and only closed for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Law enforcement and others working in public service eat at half price.
To contact the store visit 203 Market St., on the Web at www.hamburgerstore.com/ or call 903-665-3251.