A visit to Cartersville’s 90-year-old burger joint

You know the old saying: "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." Well, that’s been the philosophy behind one North Georgia restaurant for 90 years.

4 Way Lunch in Cartersville has been feeding hungry passers-by since 1931, when Fred Garrison and his son Ernest took over an empty old saloon at the corner of Main and Gilmer Streets and started slinging burgers inside. It had already been around for four decades when Cartersville-native Lillian "Pete" Starnes first walked in the door.

"I was a country girl, and this was one of those situations that, kids couldn’t come to town to get what they wanted. The parents did it for them," says Starnes. "So, when I came to work here is the first time I’d been in here."

She continues with a laugh, "I kid with people; they say, ‘How long have you been here?’ I say, ’50 years. I was going to come in to see if I liked it, and if I didn’t, I was going to leave. And I’m still here!"

In fact, Starnes liked it so much, she and her husband Don eventually took over ownership of the popular breakfast and lunch spot. 4 Way Lunch has survived a lot over the years — a big fire in the 1990s, and more recently, a global pandemic — and the couple practically raised their family inside the four cramped walls along the way.

"I have three children and they’ve all worked at one time or another for me," says Starnes. "I have two daughters now that are working here for me. And grandkids? I have eight of them and have worked at least one day with every one of them."

The kids and grandkids may change out in the kitchen from time to time, but not much else does. Burgers and hot dogs are still top sellers, especially when served "all the way" — topped with mustard, onions and chili. Prices have gone up, of course, but the phone bill hasn’t. That’s because, after 90 years, there still isn’t one.

"Two ladies came in with AT&T, and they said, ‘We want to update your phone service.’ I said, ‘I don’t have a phone,’" laughs Starnes. "They said, ‘How have you stayed in business?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, since 1931 we haven’t had a phone, and we’re still here!’"

So, don’t bother calling for a reservation. Pete Starnes says the way to get service here is to show up with big smile…and an even bigger appetite.

4 Way Lunch is located at 31 East Main Street in Cartersville.