Foley, AL

The Lambert's Cafe and its roll throwing tradition has brought the crowds for 80 years

CJ Coombs
One of Lambert Cafe's locations in Foley, Alabama.Infrogmation of New Orleans, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Early history

Founded in 1942, Lambert's Cafe has three locations in Sikeston and Ozark, Missouri, and Foley, Alabama. It's the place to visit if you enjoy country or southern-style cooking with popular items on the menu like fried chicken, of course, catfish, meatloaf, and homemade chicken and dumplings. There are plenty of side options available. And, of course, let's not forget the throwing of the rolls.

Earl Lambert and his son

When the famous cafe started in Sikeston, Earl Lambert (b. Feb. 5, 1913, d. Sept. 20, 1976) received help from family members including his wife, and his brother and his wife. Twenty-four years later, Earl's son, Norman (b. Nov. 18, 1933, d. June 10, 1996), who used to coach high school football, took over managing the business.

Norman came up with the idea which is now a tradition of throwing rolls to the customers. According to Norman, the concept began when they used to be in a crowded cafe and when he was trying to get some rolls over to someone, a man hollered out, "throw them." So that practice has continued with the rolls fresh out of the oven.

If you're not familiar with Sikeston, it's in a very southeastern location of Missouri. When Earl and his wife, Agnes, moved near Sikeston, they were sharecroppers and employees of the International Shoe Company.

In 1942, they opened the original Lambert's Cafe with a loan of $1,500 and a pocket of change. Recall, too, that this was in the midst of World War II. Since the cafe had reasonable prices even during hard times, its popularity grew.

Lambert's has also brought lawsuits

A customer sued with the complaint of permanent eye injuries when she was hit by a hot roll.

Troy Tucker said she was hit by a roll during a visit in September of 2014. She is suing the chain, which sports the slogan 'Home of Throwed Rolls,' claiming she 'sustained a lacerated cornea with a vitreous detachment and all head, neck, eyes and vision were severely damaged.' (Source.)

Being a restaurant owner places you in a vulnerable position. There are several reasons any restaurant owner might be sued. It can begin with a slip and fall on the property.

Interestingly, The Riverfront Times wrote in August 2015,

But we have to wonder how much of a case Tucker has. After all, in June, the Kansas City Royals and their mascot were deemed not to have been at fault after a thrown hot dog hit a man in the face and tore his retina. In that case the "baseball rule" was referenced, and the jury found that the man assumed some responsibility for personal awareness by entering a baseball stadium. (Source.)

On more than one occasion several years ago, I went to an Asian restaurant where you sit around an area containing a grill. You watch the chef making your stir-fried meal and he picks up a piece of shrimp and you try to catch it in your mouth. Everyone thought that was fun and I'm sure whether the piece of shrimp was hot or not just didn't come into question when it probably should have.

According to the above-referenced article, the question turns to whether the customer is "responsible for some level of situational awareness when entering the restaurant."

I suppose you could always dodge the roll. Part of the traditional lure of going to Lambert's though is to watch the rolls get tossed to customers or to catch one yourself. Maybe you can request no rolls.

Celebrating 80 years

Lambert's Cafe celebrated its 80th anniversary this year. Third-generation family member, Karl Scott Lambert, who is Earl's grandson is hoping for 80 more. So are all the customers who continue to travel to their locations for the dining experience.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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