Sisters named to #039;beautiful#039; list

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Sisters Pat Rogers and Geraldine Umbehagen, owners of Sister's Restaurant, have been chosen as two of 10 "Alabama's Beautiful People" for 2004 by the State of Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel.

In recognition of this prestigious honor, the sisters will be guests of honor at the Alabama Tourism Partnership Governor's Conference in Huntsville, July 14. They will also be featured in the 2004 Alabama Vacation Guide.

The program was called originally called "Alabama's Unforgettable Faces" but was changed because "Alabama the Beautiful" is more than a place of mountains, beaches and scenic vistas, said Lee Sentell, director of the state tourism bureau.

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"It is also the home of many remarkable men and women with a richness of life experiences - Alabama's Beautiful People."

Rogers and Umbehagen were nominated for the prestigious award by Shelia Jackson, director of tourism for the City of Troy.

Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford said he was overjoyed that the sisters were chosen for this honor.

"Their entire family has worked hard to make their business a success and they are to be commended," Lunsford said. "Geraldine and Pat were involved in the restaurant business in Troy long before they opened Sister's. My dad died several years ago, but he always talked about those 'Golden girls.' They were some of his very favorite people. The success of Sister's Restaurant is due to its good food and the atmosphere, but mostly because of the two folks that run it."

The two folks that run it are Pat and Geraldine a.k.a. "the Golden girls."

Geraldine was the one who first noticed the abandoned hilltop motel.

"I loved that place and I thought it would be a shame to see it fall down," she said. "Then, someone put in a restaurant and I told Pat, 'See, we could have had that'"

When the restaurant closed, Ed and Faye Salter, owners of the building were familiar with Pat and Geraldine from their association with a restaurant in town. The couple was looking for someone to occupy the building.

"Ed said he thought those Golden girls could make a go of it, and he came to us," Pat said.

The sisters had often considered opening a restaurant of their own, but never took that big step. Pat liked the idea "right off the bat," but she had to do some fast-talking to get Geraldine to agree.

"Dean thought it was too far out of town and then she was scared somebody would have an accident pulling out on the highway, but finally she gave in," Pat said. "It was really a big step for two little ol' country girls. We'd never been in business. We'd never even gone to the bank to borrow money. We didn't even know how to do that."

And, had it not been for Salter's support, the Golden girls might have stayed in the country.

"Ed and Faye were so good to us," Geraldine said. "They bought the stoves, the ice maker, almost everything we needed to get a kitchen stocked. If it had not been for them, we never would have seen our dream come true. We would have been too scared to put out that much money to get started. But he had confidence in us."

Before they fully committed to the business, Pat and Geraldine looked to their family for their "help."

They asked Pat's daughter, Judy Bryan, and their niece, Janet Davis, to work along side of them. They agreed and it was a done-deal.

Pat and Geraldine were Jills of all trades. They cooked, washed dishes, hopped and bused tables, swept and mopped, ran the register and anything else that had to be done.

"Our idea was to make a little money for ourselves," Pat said. "We never thought that the restaurant would grow so much that we would need a cook. Now we have four."

Sister's Restaurant is open five days a week and operates as a meat-and-three eatery. They have two weekend buffets - a Friday night seafood feast and a Sunday-go-to-meeting dinner fanfare.

The restaurant serves an average of 300 meals each weekday and 400 or more on Sundays. Many people eat at Sister's every day. Others drive 100 miles or more to put their feet under one of their tables.

The sisters smile at each other when asked their recipe for success. And, the answer is simple - good, Southern made-from-scratch cooking and knowing their dinner guests by name.

"We know just about everybody and everybody knows everybody else," Geraldine said. "Sister's is a meeting place for the people of our community and they go from table to table visiting."

Pat said coming to Sister's is like coming to grandma's for dinner.

"Folks sit down and we serve them meats and vegetables like their grandmother used to cook," she said. "People are so busy these days that they don't have time to cook like people used to. We do it for them and they don't have to wash the dishes or mop the floors."

And, too, the Sisters aren't your ordinary businesswomen. They're too laid back for that.

"We try to make coming to Sister's fun," Pat said. "At Halloween, we go all out. We dress up and spook the daylights out of folks."

Pat spooked a whole busload of Republican candidates when they pulled in to eat a bite.

"It will be along time before they forget Sister's," Pat said laughing. "We have a few celebrities that eat here. Flo (Polly Holiday) for one and we catered three days for Hank Jr.

when he made an album at Almeria. We're mentioned on the album jacket. It says, 'Thanks to Sister's for all the good Southern food.' That's something. Us on an album."

But, Pat's got it in for Junior when he's back in town. She heard Kid Rock was visiting him and he didn't bring him to Sister's. "After all that banana puddin' we've made for him!"

Celebrities, travelers, locals. They all like Sister's and, like the Troy mayor said, the food's great; the atmosphere's good; but it's the Sisters that bring people back time after time.

Some people don't understand how Geraldine and Pat have managed to stay tied together by heartstrings when they are also bound by apron strings.

"We just love each other," Pat said. "In the six years, we've been in business, we've had one little argument and I don't even remember what it was about.

"If Geraldine gets on to me for something, I know it was because I did something that wasn't right. And, it's the same with her. And, if anything happens to one of us, this place won't open the next day because we couldn't do it without each other."