Mom's Restaurant still entertaining Ohio's UK fans after 40-plus years

Blue gravy is a staple of this small-town eatery

FRANKLIN, Ohio -- Yes, the gravy is blue.

Normally you can find it on top of the biscuits that are served in this cozy, 100-seat restaurant, located just off of Ohio 123, next to the BP gas station.

Appropriately named Mom’s Restaurant, the joint serves up all the home-cookin’ comfort a stomach could crave, from hearty breakfasts to roast beef and burgers. But the clientele isn’t exactly what you’d expect for this state.

It’s clad in more blue -- hence the gravy.

“I’m from Kentucky and my love for Kentucky basketball never left me,” said “Mom,” who is also known as 76-year-old Hilda Ratliff, owner of the restaurant.

“So I get a lot of Kentucky basketball fans who come up to visit. While they’re here we make our blue gravy in support of the team.”

“Mom,” otherwise known as Hilda Ratliff, has owned Mom’s Restaurant for 40 years. Photo provided

She’s been doing it for more than 40 years and along the way the restaurant has acquired its fair share of University of Kentucky basketball memorabilia. A 16 inch by 20 inch framed picture of former Wildcat radio announcer Cawood Ledford adorns one wall. Autographed pictures of former players and coaches hang near some of the tables.

“UK basketball is everything in Kentucky,” she said. “I couldn’t leave it behind.”

But she did leave most everything else behind when she moved away from her home. It was a decision that changed her life forever.

From Kentucky with love 

The story actually starts about 40 years ago -- and four hours away.

Ratliff was born and raised in Hazard, a town of 5,000 in eastern Kentucky near the West Virginia border. But, like many of the population there, she felt the need to get out and explore the world. When she finished high school, she took her $82 in graduation money and packed up for Ohio.

“I’d never seen so much money,” Ratliff said. “So I put all my things in a couple of grocery bags and left.”

She settled in a place called Red Lion, 40 minutes northeast of Cincinnati, and she said there were a few things she never wanted to do again -- like wash dishes, for instance. She found love in Red Lion, and she became a mother. 

But something happened on the way to happily ever after, and all at once Ratliff found herself divorced with two children and no plan. Most days she’d walk down to the local restaurant for a cup of coffee. 

Then she started working there, serving coffee to others. 

“And eventually, the owner sold the place to me,” Ratliff said. “I got everything in the place for $1,500.”

The interior of Mom’s Restaurant is dotted with UK memorabilia and about 1,000 coffee cups lining the walls. Photo provided

So, Mom became the owner of Mom’s Restaurant.

More than 40 years later, the restaurant has changed locales, but as a new basketball season begins, business is still going strong.

Coffee cups and basketball 

Mom’s Restaurant stayed in the same location for 37 years until local construction forced the business to move to Franklin, where they have remained for the last seven. 

Aside from the massive array of Kentucky sports memorabilia, patrons will also see about 1,000 coffee mugs lining the walls. It’s a tribute to when Ratliff first started running the restaurant and local law enforcement would hang their own mugs up and use them when they came back. Many still do the same thing today.

Over the years the restaurant has been visited by the likes of former Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall as well as NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a slew of former basketball players. 

“You’ve got to come and get the breakfast,” said Jim Porter, who lives in Franklin but also happens to be a Kentucky basketball fan. “Get the eggs and the biscuits with the blue food coloring. No matter who you root for, you will be a fan of this place and the food.”

Or you can try the pancakes and bacon. Or the deep-fried vegetables. Or the dessert pies.

Just be mindful: Mom’s only accepts cash. In fact, that may be the only drawback.

Well ... according to Mom, there’s one other.

“I’d always said I never wanted to do any more dishes,” Ratliff said, laughing. “Now it seems like all I ever do is clean out those biscuit skillets.”

But it’s worth it to her customers, they say. Just ask them. 

Franklin Mayor Denny Centers comes in most days to share coffee with Ratliff. Others, like Franklin resident Mark Daulton, come in two to three times a week with his family.

"It's the atmosphere, just the small-town cafe feel," said Daulton, who has been visiting Mom's for the past five years. "It's a pleasant feeling going in there. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I also love Kentucky basketball. But the food is so good -- I have favorites, but I get different things all the time. If you haven't been, you really need to go."

Mark Daulton recommends three things to try at Mom's Restaurant:

1. Biscuits and gravy (whether the gravy is blue or not).
2. Every day, there's a special, and every other Wednesday it's the chicken and dumplings.
3. Homemade pies. For Daulton, that means the blackberry.
 

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