The Bones of Mickey Mantle’s Old Restaurant

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The long-forgotten bones of Mickey Mantle’s Country Cookin’ Restaurant are visible here and there in a building on Highway 80 that is now part of the High Ridge Church campus. Ben Shelton, a church member who is overseeing the renovation and expansion of the building, pointed them out recently during a gray, rainy afternoon. The east side of the building contains single-pane, wood-frame exterior windows from the original restaurant, which opened in December 1968. In a few closets and less-used spaces, the original terrazzo flooring is visible, while a back room likely housed a manager’s office. It’s still decked out in 1960s-style paneling.

Shelton contacted me after finding online a piece I wrote in 2012 about the restaurant’s opening. Mickey Mantle, the famed Yankee slugger, came to town to sign autographs and launch the opening of what he hoped would be a booming chain of restaurants featuring the type of fare Mantle loved. At a press conference in Longview, Mantle said he was just a “plain old country boy who likes plain old country food.” Mantle’s favorite food was chicken fried steak, accompanied by a few libations. He joked that if enough East Texas folks would eat his restaurants’ chicken and dumplings, he might just turn in his baseball glove.

As it turned out, the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer would do just that — retire — a few months later, his body racked by injuries that left him hobbled.

My parents took my brothers and me to see Mantle. We were fervent Red Sox fans who generally regarded the Yankees as the enemy. But, after all, this was Mickey Mantle. He sat at a table in the foyer of the restaurant, signing a stack of black-and-white 8×10 photos of himself in uniform, kneeling in the batter’s circle in Yankee Stadium. The photo today hangs in my study, the ink faded a bit but still visible, as seen in the accompanying digital version: To Gary. Mickey Mantle.

Ben Shelton solved a longtime mystery for me, nearly eight years after writing the original piece that caught my attention. I knew the restaurant was on Highway 80, somewhere near where H.G. Mosley Parkway intersects, but wasn’t quite sure exactly where. I appreciate Ben reaching out to me.


Mantle and his backers had big plans for Mickey Mantle’s Country Cookin’. A newspaper article noted local hotelier Bruce Cunningham planned to open 10 more restaurants throughout East Texas and the Dallas area. According to an SEC filing, besides chicken and dumplings, the restaurant featured chicken fried steak, chili, ham and lima beans and a country pork sausage sandwich. Plates were $1.25, and sandwiches were a buck.

The company went public just before opening the Longview restaurant. Stock started at $15 but quickly dropped to just a buck a year later — the price of a sandwich at the restaurant. Despite Mantle’s proclamation that, “To get a better piece of chicken, you’d have to be a rooster,” the chain was a failure.

While the Country Cookin’ stores didn’t succeed, a Mickey Mantle restaurant in New York City’s Central Park South survived about a quarter-century. Mantle loaned his name and occasional appearances but left management to others. He became one of the pioneer ex-athletes in earning money signing baseballs playing cards and photographs. On eBay today, one can bid on autographed plates from Mickey Mantle’s Country Cookin’. Opening bids are in the $500 range. Unsigned plates go for less than $50. Autographed baseball cards are $1,000 and more.


Mantle suffered from alcoholism as did his wife and most of his children, two of whom preceded him in death. He wrote a compelling first-person piece for Sports Illustrated in 1994 about finally getting sober after spending weeks at the Betty Ford Center. A year later, in 1995, Mantle was dead. He had undergone a liver transplant, only for doctors to discover he had advanced liver cancer, which had spread. He was only 64.

Mantle was one of the greatest hitters of all time and a national star, but at heart he remained an Oklahoma country boy who loved his chicken fried steak.

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