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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: A Hamburger by Any Other Name


Wally Rakestraw

Latham's Hamburger Inn

R.W. Staggs opened Latham’s Hamburger Inn in 1928 in a small trolley car across the street from its current location. Mr. Staggs served a doughburger, which is known as a hamburger on the menu today. The recipe has always been highly guarded, but it is quite likely beef mixed with an extender, such as flour. In the 1950s, a woman named Geneva Grisham purchased the restaurant, and she sold it to Ms. Fairy Latham later that decade. It’s been in the Latham family ever since. Today, Vicky Latham owns Latham’s Hamburger Inn, and her dear friend Wally Rakestraw rents and runs the establishment.


Mr. Rakestraw, born and raised in New Albany, remembers coming to Latham’s as a child in the 1960s with his grandparents, Walter and Donie “Aunt Don” Rakestraw. On Saturdays, the grandparents would load Wally and his three siblings into the back of their truck and drive downtown to shop and run errands. Mr. Rakestraw would order a hamburger, even though he never liked them because of the texture.

Mr. Rakestraw left New Albany to travel and take different jobs around the country, returning home after fourteen years to help care for his grandmother. He handled accounting for his father’s sand and gravel mining business, R & S Haulers, Inc., until his father retired. In 2008, Mr. Rakestraw decided to revive Latham’s, which was falling into disrepair. Thanks to his efforts, the New Albany institution is still going strong. Latham’s Hamburger Inn stands as a testament to the recent comeback of New Albany’s downtown economy.

Mr. Rakestraw passed away on August 16, 2016.

Date of interview:

Sara Wood

Sara Wood

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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