Charles Watkins, O'Charley's founder, former Memphian, dies at 87

The Tennessean posted this morning a special obituary of O'Charley's restaurant chain founder Charles H. "Charlie" Watkins II, who died early Tuesday in Nashville at age 87. Watkins, a native of Paris, Tenn., had moved to Nashville from Memphis in 1966 to open a Shakey's Pizza, one of many restaurant ventures he pursued. While in Memphis, he had worked for another pretty well-known hospitality entrepreneur:

Before moving here, Mr. Watkins was an assistant to Kemmons Wilson, founder and chairman of the board of Holiday Inns of America.

He later started the Al Hirt Sandwich Saloon chain, and then in the early 1970s he opened the first O'Charley's on 21st Avenue, a place his son described as a "fern bar."

That step launched Mr. Watkins into the ranks of influential Nashville entrepreneurs who would help reshape the economy of Middle Tennessee over a period of years.

I got a chuckle out of the "fern bar" part, having just last night watched the WKNO documentary "Overton Square --  The Golden Age," in which TGI Friday's -- the quintessential fern bar with its faux Tiffany lamps, kitsch-bedecked wood panels and mudslide cocktails -- figured so prominently. Might the fern bar ever make a comeback?  Yumsugar kicked the question around last year.


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