By LIZ HARTNETT
Far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Columbia is a small restaurant on a tiny street.
And you don’t want to miss it.
Catfish Corner has been at the intersection of Route B and Leupold Court in northern Columbia for seven years. Its unpretentious sign and modest building are reminiscent of the comfortable restaurants that dot the banks of the Mississippi. As you walk into the restaurant, you are greeted by a young hostess and a whiteboard with a list of the daily specials.
The tables have plastic tablecloths and baskets with condiments. There are no napkin dispensers – just a roll of paper towels waiting to be used by eager customers along with silverware delivered in wax paper. The walls are covered with memorabilia and the smell of fried catfish and okra fill the air. Even if you weren’t hungry before, you are now.
And that’s how owners Les and Wanda Harlin want you to feel. The Harlins, who were semi-retired when they decided to open Catfish Corner in August 2003, chose to get into the restaurant business partly because of Les’ love of catfish and partly because he believed Columbia was a good place to open a catfish restaurant.
Inspired by catfish restaurants in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi, the Harlins set out to give people a good catfish experience.
Seven years later, the Harlins are doing just that. They have a wide range of clientele, from businesspeople to regular customers from Columbia, Hallsville and Centralia. They also see out of town visitors, all in pursuit of excellent catfish.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Cathy Lewis, an out of town visitor from Wildwood, Mo. “It was a great home meal.”
To the Harlins, a good catfish-eating experience is more than just good food. It’s about the atmosphere and the people who help run the restaurant.
“We have great employees and we’re fortunate to have them,” Wanda said.
Likewise, the employees of Catfish Corner feel the same about the owners.
“It’s all about making people comfortable,” said Christy Lowe, who’s been a waitress at Catfish Corner for six and a half years.
Although the restaurant sits on the outskirts of Columbia, far from the activity of the busy college town, it has a loyal following of regular customers and a growing fan base.
“It’s a comfortable atmosphere where people can wear their blue jeans and t-shirts and feel right at home,” Wanda said. “I encourage everyone to come and give it a try.”