[Originally published in Island Review, July 2017]
Yana’s Ye Olde Restaurant is a time capsule located in the heart of Swansboro. When you walk in (passing the life-size Elvis that guards the front door), your senses are immediately surrounded. Movie and music memorabilia from the fifties line the walls, broken up by mirrors and proudly framed reviews. From the kitchen, which is situated in full view behind the old soda counter, a happy sizzling broadcasts from the grill to the rest of the restaurant. Yana’s will have been in business for thirty-four years in August of this year. In those three and a half decades it has gained affection and praise from customers, claiming fans from as close as Raleigh and as far as Argentina, Sweden, and France. Any chump can hang up pictures of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean; what Evelyn Moore, the owner of Yana’s, has done is create an experience that reflects good times while serving quality food with a care for customers that never goes out of style. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this combination restaurant and gift shoppe - that process began when Evelyn was three years old.
“Wherever [my father] would go to take care of business, most of the time I would go along. I was riding in the truck with him, and got a good education out of it,” Evelyn told me, once we were seated in a booth. She went with him to the chicken hatchery, to the lumber yard, and to see harvested cotton ginned into bales. Business training for Evelyn continued for years, a decision that was firmly supported by her mother. “She’d always say, ‘Go with your dad, you need to learn some business, cause you’ll learn to cook and do dishes and all that stuff soon enough’. And so she would get me out of the house to go with Daddy…” Cooking did come soon enough, with training from her mother and recipes passed down through her mother’s family for generations - many of which are still served daily in Yana’s. Evelyn’s parents were also instrumental in supporting another important theme into her life: rock and roll. As a family, the Moores would drive into Charlotte whenever there was a show at the Colosseum, usually on Saturday nights.
Both the restaurant and memorabilia shoppe next door are filled with references to the King, from massive posters to cutouts to a dancing figurine hanging from a ceiling fan. “I can’t even remember who was really playing that night,” she told me. “At that time I was engaged to my first husband, so it wasn’t one of those things...He performed in Charlotte a lot, it was like his second home besides Memphis, you know.” Evelyn can roll out information on the heroes that line the walls like they were discovered just last year. It is almost as if these figures are old friends and, if you think about the influence they have had on her life and business, maybe they are.
As for a love for a lost golden age, this can be traced back to when Evelyn was four years old, in the movie theater with her mother, and watching Gone With the Wind for the first time.
“I sat through the whole thing, except for we went at intermission for chocolate candy bars, which was my favorite.” she laughed. Sitting through a whopping four hour film is a remarkable feat for a four-year-old, but Evelyn remembers being mesmerized. “I sat right there...thinking, ‘This is really something, I would’ve loved to have lived back then.’ Back before the war started, when they were having all of their parties and dancing, and having a good time. I loved the big dresses.” A similarly happy haze rests on the fifties for many, Evelyn included. “It was a time that was so different from how it is now,” she told me. “It was just a laid-back free time, because you weren’t scared of anything.”
Evelyn is standing proudly on the shoulders of the people who loved her and supported her from a young age, and on thirty plus years of her own hard work (during the restaurant's first thirteen years, it wasn’t closed for a single day). Today, she is still at the helm of Yana’s for all of its operating hours, going back and forth between the shoppe and restaurant seven days a week. Every evening she goes home to take care of the bookkeeping. From serving fritters that are made from her great-grandmother’s recipe to proudly displaying posters from concerts she attended as a newlywed, the past is tangible in her cheerful, busy present. Yana’s reminds us of a sweet time, one in which - in our ideals, anyways - human decency was the norm and the art world was growing by leaps and bounds. As such, it serves as a hopeful challenge to those of us who make up the present to be better, to make our own time more friendly and productive. And who knows? With support from one another and a few apple fritters, maybe we will.
Yana’s Ye Olde Restaurant and Yana Mama’s Memorabilia Shoppe are located at 119 N Front Street, Swansboro. They are open from 7-2 on weekdays, and 7-3 on weekends.
[a side note: when I asked if the old jukebox still worked, much to my delight Evelyn pulled it open, and an old familiar song - Brown Eyed Girl, maybe - started playing. I spent the rest of the interview swaying, like the true professional that I am.]