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Dad's lessons keep family's grill going

February 25, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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J & M grillDad's lessons keep family's grill going

A traffic accident in 1992 left Jack McAfee unable to run the business he and his wife Mae Etta started in 1973.

But thanks to daughter Jackie McAfee's determination to carry on as her father taught her, the McAfees have been able to keep providing the same country food and homey atmosphere customers have come to expect at the J&M Grill, Mae Etta McAfee said.

"Thank God she followed her dad around here when she was little. Thank God that she followed, watched and learned," said Mae Etta McAfee, 54, who sat with her husband at their table in the back of the South End restaurant Wednesday.

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It was 25 years ago Wednesday that they opened the restaurant at 816 S. Potomac St., she told regulars who stopped by the table to say hello to Jack.

Because he tires easily and suffers from motion sickness, Jack McAfee has visited the restaurant only a few times since he suffered a major stroke following surgery in 1996, Mae Etta said.

Residual effects from the accident and stroke have left Jack, 55, unable to chat it up with customers the way he used to, she said.

But he enthusiastically greeted each of them, nodding when they asked if he recognized them.

It had been a long time, said Hagerstown resident Larry Nave, 45, who often visited Jack in the hospital following the stroke and is still a regular customer at the restaurant.

J & M GrillThanks to Jackie, the restaurant is the same comfortable place it was when he started coming more than a dozen years ago, Nave said.

"It's nice to see him back, even though he's not what he once was," said long-time customer and friend John Corbett, of Hagerstown, who was eating lunch at the next table.

Jack used to be a big talker, said Corbett, 63, who remembers when he used to stop in for breakfast and conversation around 5:30 a.m. on his way to work in Frederick, Md.

"I come here because it's my kind of place. It's not fancy. The food is good and at a reasonable price," he said.

Jack McAfee used to go into the restaurant at 2 a.m. to get things ready for opening at 4 a.m., said Mae Etta McAfee, who for many years worked with him.

"He was so devoted," she said. "It's hard work. He did all the cooking; for years, stood by that grill."

Recovering from her own injuries after the car accident, Mae Etta admits she worried they might have to give up the restaurant, which had dominated their lives and provided a good living for so many years.

"After the wreck, things started changing. He'd come in a couple hours but then would have to go home," she said.

Despite her mother's confidence she could do it, Jackie McAfee was unsure that she could fill her dad's shoes.

But she felt she had no choice, she said.

"I had to swim or drown. I wasn't going to let my daddy's business go under," said Jackie McAfee, 37, who manages day-to-day operations, cooks and helps customers.

Mae Etta McAfee does the books and pays the bills.

Hoping to keep the business in the family, Jackie McAfee said she started training her 19-year-old daughter, Helena Harrell, to run the business last year.

"I found out she was a chip off the old block," she said.

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