A story of Bozo and the Williams Family
Bozo’s Bar-B-Q Original Site
Bozo’s Bar-B-Q was founded in January of 1923, by Thomas Jefferson “Bozo” Williams. The first building was very small. In fact, there wasn’t enough room for tables so everyone was served at the counter with a “pig” sandwich costing only 15 cents! The restaurant was located on the east end of town near Charleston-Mason Road/Washington Ave.
During the early 1920’s, the road connecting Memphis to Nashville was a winding road. It looped through Fayette County before crossing the railroad tracks at Mason, and continued down Washington Street. In 1925, portions, of what is now Highway 70, were completed so Mr. Williams looked to find a better located on the west side of town.
Second Location of Bozo’s Bar-B-Q
Bozo’s Bar-B-Q moved into a small building in 1925 on Hwy 70. The site is the same as the current location. This building was a combination of the Bar-B-Q Restaurant and a Shell Gasoline Station. During the first few years, it operated with only a counter. Later, a side room with a few tables were added to the restaurant. During the time at this location, Bozo Williams was saving money to buy his own place as he was currently renting the property. Bozo’s remained at this location until 1933 when he’d saved enough money to purchase the land across the street for his own building. the current location of the Bank of Mason. In 1933, he moved his restaurant across the road into a white wood-framed building.
Third Location of Bozo’s Bar-B-Q
In 1933, Bozo purchased the land on the south side of Hwy 70 where the Bank of Mason now stands. This building was a white wood-framed building and it was larger than any of the previous Bozo locations. There was a small counter and a room for eight tables with a pot belly stove. A carport roof protected the gas pump at the front of the restaurant. The Bar-B-Q pit was located at the back of the building, and there was a small room for Bozo to sleep at night. Bozo’s was at this location from 1933 to 1941.
Bozo is Gone but the Restaurant Remains
Mr. Williams continued to operate Bozo’s until his death from pneumonia in 1935. During his life, he was married to Fannie Cotton Richardson Williams, or Mama Fannie as family members called her. Bozo and Fannie had eleven children who affectionately called him “Papa”. When Bozo passed way four of his children were still living in the house with Mama Fannie. These children consisting of three daughters and one son became the heirs and co-owners of Bozo’s. There were many long hours spent in the restaurant in which friendships were created and stories shared. Sometimes you will still hear customers telling you about their favorite Williams’ story or of the great friendship shared by the siblings, Mrs. Iris, Miss Rubye, Miss Helen, and Mr. Allen Williams.
1941 Brings Big Changes
Nineteen hundred and forty-one great changes came to Bozo’s Bar-B-Q and to all of America. In November, a fire destroyed the building Bozo had worked so hard to buy. Then in December all of America was thrust into World War II after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. These were horrifying times for everyone.
The fire department could not determine a specific reason for the restaurant fire. However, it is believed by the family, that the pit cook fired the meat heavily and, then, left the pit unattended which caused the fire.
1942 Bozo’s Bar-B-Q a New Building
Another whitewood-framed building was finished in 1942 and looked vary similar to the burned-out building. Of course, the new building was a little bigger and there were not any gasoline pumps.
During Warld War II, the menu was forced to change yet these changes proved to satisfy many of the Bozo’s customers. Salads and sandwiches which are still on the menu today were added. The menu expansion was a result of changes in pork deliveries. In an effort to support the war, pork deliveries were limited to once a week.
In the same way the Williams family did its part to serve the country during the war. Miss Helen joined the Women’s Army Air Corps (WAAC) to serve in flight towers at the Army Air Corps bases. Miss Rubye worked at Kennedy Veterans Hospital in Memphis while Mr. Allen performed security duty at the Naval Base in Millington, TN. Miss Iris stayed home to run the family business. After the war, Miss. Helen, Miss. Rubye and Mr. Allen came back home to run Bozo’s on a full or part time basis.
Bozo’s Bar-B-Q After the War
The building across the road leaves many with colorful stories. Many remember the slot machines used for gambling and how hot sauce was poured into empty whiskey bottles and placed on the tables. You could also enjoy a “cold one” (beer) with your Bar-B-Q. Another infamous memory is when the carload of Mexicans, who were traveling from New York to Mexico City, lost control of their car and plowed into the front porch of the restaurant.
Bozo’s Bar-B-Q has Another Fire
The second building also fell victim to a fire in November of 1949. Miss Helen suspected a gas leak since a gas line was installed a week or two before the fire, but there was no evidence to verify her suspicions.
When word of the fire reached newspapers, offers of help came from friends, family and customers. Mr. Harry Coleman of Covington, TN arranged for the delivery of five army surplus quonset huts that served as the dining area. One hut was used for the kitchen and storage area while a second hut served as the Bar-B-Q pit. The other huts served as a dinning area. The surrounding community’s help came so quickly the Williams family was back in business in just seven days.
Bozo’s Bar-B-Q a New and Final Location
In January of 1950, construction began on the present day Bozo’s building. The Williams had been saving money since 1933 to purchase the lot across the street from their current location. The new lot was on the same side of the highway as their family home and they were finally able to buy the land. The “new” restaurant opened for business on Wednesday, April 5, 1950.
Customers and friends sent so many flowers opening day there was barely room for customers at the counter on that busy Easter Weekend. Car hops delivered food to cars during the first year or two in the new building. The restaurant was air conditioned in 1952, becoming one of the first buildings in Mason to have that luxury. Walker Chevrolet donated a clock in 1950 that still keeps time today. Business was so brisk, that an automatic dishwasher was installed in the new building within a month or two of being opened.
- 1945: The Williams family started a tradition of closing for two weeks vacation starting on Labor Day. The practice of closing for a two week vacation continued until 1988
- 1960: Restaurant is now open on Mondays and closed on Sundays
- 1963: Sweet Bar-B-Q sauce was introduced to accompany the famous Hot Sauce; beer continued to be sold until the early 60s
- 1968: Greyhound buses no longer stop at Bozo’s due to Interstate 40 opening and their routes changing
- 1963: The neon sign that graced the front of the building was installed on November 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was killed
- Early 70s: Customers could hear their favorite songs on the juke box
- 1988: Coca Cola Company discontinued the popular returnable bottles that was one of the unique features at Bozo’s
- 1989: The original neon sign was replaced by a new neon sign patterned after the old sign
- 1991: Onion rings were added to the menu
- 1995: In January, Bozo’s started closing on both Sunday and Monday in order to have more time with family
Many employees have enjoyed long careers at Bozo’s. Mammie Taylor started chopping Bar-B-Q in 1964. Julia Wright began waiting tables in 1967, and Lottie Dowell started cleaning dishes in 1972.
Here are some of the people that worked longer than ten years at Bozo’s:
- Annie Bone
- Doris and Wayne Hamby
- Earnestine Jones
- Lucy Kimble
- Alma Twisdale Lane
- Ernest Lauderdale
- Dorothy Maclin
- Shorty Maclin
- Sandra Martin
- Faye Perkins
- Rosie Powell
- Sally Seay
- Betty Stafford
- Celia Thompson
- Ruth Twisdale
- Bertha Waddell
- Jake Whitmore
- Thelma Yarbrough
Also, many members of the Williams family worked at Bozo’s throught the years, the most notable being John Alfred “TJ”, son of Bozo, and, TJ’s wife, Lexie Williams. Dot Williams Cottam helped manage the restaurant from 1979 to 1990.
Death of Family Members
Sadly, there were some deaths of family members involved with the business. Miss Fannie Williams, Bozo’s wife, passed away in 1960. Miss Iris Williams died in 1963. Mr. Allen Williams died in 1972. Miss Rubye Williams passed away in June 1991 after a long period of illness due to strokes. Miss Helen passed away in 2004.
A scene from Walk the Line was filmed at Bozo’s in 2005. The movie is a biopic of Johnny Cash. During the scene, June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) and Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) are sitting at the counter in warm conversation. The scene does not last long but it is exciting to see the local restaurant on the “big” screen.
Passing the Restaurant to the Next Generation
Jeff Thompson, the former owner of Bozo’s, began working at the restaurant at the age of 14. He is the great-nephew of Miss Helen Williams and great-grandson of Bozo Williams. Jeff started cleaning tables during the summer of 1973 and continued to work summer vacations for six of the next eight years. Jeff studied restaurant management at the University of Tennessee, and worked several years for two restaurant chains in Atlanta before returning to take over the family business. Miss Helen sold the restaurant to Jeff in February 1988 so she could retire. Jeff Thompson kept Bozo’s Restuarant until 1999 when he sold it to Hayne Ozier. Hayne continued to serve Bozo’s famous Bar-B-Q until June 2008.
In June 2008, John and Cindy Papageorgeon bought Bozo’s and continue to serve the same quality Bar-B-Q as the previous owners have since 1923.
[Information provided by Jeff Thompson, photos from Helen Williams’ Family album]