Dormer Simms Opened Pampa’s First Restaurant

Dormer Simms, youngest of 18 children, was born about 1885 in the middle of a cotton patch in Coosa County, Alabama. An orphan at the age of five, he lived with his older brother, Frank, who came to Panhandle shortly after 1900.

Photo of Eloise Lane

Eloise Lane

Dormer and Gertrude Talbot were married on Friday the thirteenth in Room 13 of the Amarillo Hotel. Gertrude worked as a telephone operator while Dormer and two friends opened a restaurant.

On a trip to Amarillo Dormer paid $25 for a chili recipe and began to sell chili like “hot cakes.” Hearing that Pampa was booming, he and his friends closed their place in Panhandle and moved to Pampa. In 1968, Dormer recalled:

“We got to Pampa and rented an old shed-like building from Tom Horn, who had a grocery store. We rented a room from him and put in a restaurant. My counter was made with two 14-inch, 14 foot 2xl2, two of them put together and this made a counter. My stool was made with one 2×2, 14 foot long. Those old boys down there, I suppose, are still picking splinters they got from that 2×12 because that is all we had to sit on.

“After we got the restaurant lined up, I had the whole sum of 75 cents in my pocket. I went across the street where Lee Quinn was running the butcher shop and spent the 75 cents for chili meat. At that time, you could buy it for five cents a pound. I made a big pot of chili and sold it out immediately. Then we had enough money so Gertrude and I could buy a steak. That is how we started the restaurant business in Pampa in 1906. There were 153 people in town counting the dogs and I owned both the dogs.

“We had a lot of fun in those days. On the west side Emmett Duncan and his father ran the hardware store on the corner of the street (105 N. Cuyler) and on the other corner (100 S. Cuyler and West Foster) Lee Quinn had his meat market, also the pool hall. On that side was the Thomas Brothers and the White Deer Land Company. We were on the east side: Tom Horn, Sam Rider on the corner with his grocery store, Jim Rider with his livery stable about a block further east, and Lonnie Rider. So naturally one side would get after the other.

“We had our dog fights, our chicken fights, and a lot of other fights, but all we got out of that was a black eye. We would have our fights in the middle of the street. Emmet would have a fighting dog and I would have a fighting dog; or I would pick up an old rooster from down around the Jim Rider livery stabel and Emmet would pick up an old rooster from the west side. One side was against the other and the side that lost would buy the drinks for the whole bunch at my soda fountain. I had the first restaraunt, the first soda fountain and the first cash register in Pampa .

“The Simms’ soda fountain had an enormous business and made lots of money so I decided I would move and get in a bigger place. There was no place in town so I went down to Davi’ Lumber Yard about a block away. Glen Davis had a lot up close to Sam Rider’s grocery store, so I bought this lot from Glen and put up a two story building 25 or 30 feet wide and about 100 feet deep. That is where I put in Simms Sweet Shop and I had an enormous business there.

“I bought all the lumber from The Davis Lumber Company and I borrowed the money from the Gray County State Bank. Tom Crawford and Jesse Wynne owned the bank. Tom Crawford was the janitor, the doorman, and the cashier—the whole cheese. Jesse Wynne was probably the president. I borrowed the money from these people when compound interest was in style. I made my payments every month with the interest and when I made my last payment, the interest was twice as high as the payment. I knew everybody in Pampa .”

In the evenings Dormer would get his guitar and he and some of his friends would sit on the curb in front of the restaurant and sing all of the old songs they knew.

Dormer and Gertrude left Pampa to live for a few months in San Antonio, where their only child, Virginia, was born in 1913. They returned to Pampa but left again in 1915 to move to Arizona. In 1920 Dormer joined the California Highway Patrol. After the death of Gertrude in 1964, Dormer returned to Panhandle where he married Cleo Wetzel in 1969. He died in Honolulu, Hawaii, in July 1978.

Before his daughter was born, Dormer prayed that she would inherit his musical talent, and his prayer was answered. While Virginia was in the fourth grade, she and two friends began singing for many of the clubs. The Lions Club took the trio to a meeting in Modesto , California, where a man from Hollywood hired the trio to go on the air on KNX. Virginia was only 14 years old when her mother went with the trio to Hollywood to appear on KNX.

Virginia was hired out of the trio to sing with a band that went broke in Chicago. There she was hired by Kay Keyser, who called her “Ginny,” and remained with him for years.

In 1941, after she left Keyser, Ginny had a show of her own — the “Teenage Show.” Later she sang with the Phillip Morris Show, The Borden Milk Show and the Coca Cola Show. She retired after her marriage to Dan Eastvold and was living in Honolulu when her father died there in 1978.

(from A Chronicle of Carson County, Vol. IV and material at the White Deer Land Museum in Pampa)

Over 200 Articles, written by Eloise Lane, were published in the Pampa News. These articles may be accessed by clicking on each section below. A list of articles will be revealed that are linked to a page containing the text of the article.

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