Charles Reagan Wilson – Isaiah’s Busy Bee Cafe (1971 – late 1990s) – Southern Foodways Alliance arrow left envelope headphones search facebook instagram twitter flickr menu rss play circle itunes calendar

Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

< Back to Oral History project: Restaurants of Oxford’s Past

ORAL HISTORY

Charles Reagan Wilson


Isaiah's Busy Bee Cafe

Charles Reagan Wilson moved to Oxford to teach at the University of Mississippi in 1981 (he later served as the director of the Center of the Study of Southern Culture). He soon became a regular at Georgia Isaiah’s Busy Bee Cafe. He struck up a friendship with Mrs. Isaiah. He memorized her menu by heart:

“[Busy Bee] was one of those dependable things one could count on, no matter what kind of craziness was happening in your life or work. You could. . . depend on Monday night being roast beef; Tuesday night, pork chop; um Wednesday night—what was Wednesday night? Thursday night was fried chicken. Oh, ham was Wednesday night. And you’d get two or three vegetables from her garden and a delicious little dessert, and a big glass of mint tea.”

Georgia Isaiah was born in Oxford, and spent thirty years cooking for two chancellors at the University of Mississippi. She told Dr. Reagan that after her mother died, she opened the cafe as a way to help her grieve. She started with sandwiches, and moved on to her weekly menu: a meat and two or three vegetables picked from her home garden, which stood next to the restaurant. Dr. Wilson recalls that whenever a friend at her church took ill, Mrs. Isaiah would close the restaurant to tend to them.

“I guess nothing in Oxford quite has that combination of wonderful food and warm character,” Dr. Wilson says in his 2004 interview. “It was out a little bit on the edge of town. It was under this big tree. It was a small intimate place in terms of the space itself, and her presence kind of was there everywhere. I don’t think there’s been anything quite like that since then.”

The restaurant closed in the late 1990s. Mrs. Isaiah passed away in 2002.

Date of interview:
2004-08-13

Interviewer:
Amy C. Evans

Photographer:
Tom Rankin

Download Transcript

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