Closer Look

Sunset’s classic food, classic values a winning combination

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Amy Kirkpatrick

Mike and Renee McCall, owners of Sunset Restaurant, demonstrate how persistence, patience, and pie can add up to a successful partnership — both in the restaurant industry and in family life. As purveyors of a Franklin institution that began in 1945, the McCalls have continued to ensure that today’s guests always find homemade, high-quality food and a sense of family every time they visit.

The McCalls sat down with Macon Sense recently to share their insights into the challenges and rewards of serving in the restaurant industry and how they have been able make a family business run smoothly for more than four decades. 

MIKE AND Renee McCall have owned and operated the Sunset Restaurant for almost 50 years.

As Mike looks around the Sunset’s main dining room, painted a cheerful pale yellow, he recalled that he understood early on that restaurant work was tough work, but said: “This is home.”

While attending Franklin High School and then Southwestern Technical Institute (now Southwestern Community College), Mike apprenticed with his uncle and aunt, Bob and Kay Guy, at the Sunset Restaurant. His uncle, whom he describes as a good businessman, taught him “how to watch expenses and how to make money.”  

With his background in accounting and practical advice from his uncle, Mike learned the importance of hiring good employees, being “hands on” in all aspects of running the business, and ensuring the Sunset’s offerings were consistent. 

The year 1977 proved to be a pivotal year for the McCalls. Not only did Mike buy the restaurant from his uncle, but he and Renee married. Renee, who was Mike’s high school sweetheart, jokes that she, “married into the restaurant business.”

They entered into a working partnership with the Guys for 12 years, learning how to balance their home life while working 12-hour shifts, only having one day off a week, and refining the classic food that diners have come to expect from the Sunset.

“We serve what we would want to eat,” said Renee. 

In making choices for ingredients that go into their dishes, she said they have determined, “Quality overrides what you can buy in quantity.”  Mike emphasized that they strive to “buy local and in season, especially in the summer months.”  

The Sunset’s top seller is their turkey and dressing, offered on Tuesdays and Fridays, followed closely by hamburgers made with fresh ground chuck, as well as fried chicken and barbecue plates. Pies, milkshakes, and biscuits are, as Mike describes them, “labor intensive, so much from scratch.”  

“While we could cut corners for profit,” Mike stated, “we’ve never cared about being on the high-end. We enjoy serving everyday working people.”  

Like many in the restaurant industry, the McCalls have experienced a number of challenges since 2008. If they could change anything, it would be consistency in pricing for basic ingredients, giving the example that the price of lettuce had doubled in just the past week alone, and in having a steadier number of applicants for job openings. 

Already a strong employer with over 18 full-time staff and 10 to 12 part-time staff that surges with seasonal demand, the McCalls rely on SCC, Macon Program for Progress (MPP), and word of mouth networks through Franklin High School and the homeschooling community to keep a friendly, dedicated team together. Working various shifts, the team, under Mike’s direction, provides the Sunset’s dining, curbside service, and catering for special events in the community. 

“We try to maintain good relationships with the customers and good relationships with the employees,” Mike said, adding that he works hard to anticipate the needs of the Sunset’s diners. 

Renee offered an example of their commitment to meeting the satisfaction of their regular clientele. “When [Mike] sees a [familiar] car driving in the parking lot, he knows what they’re going to order … right down to their condiments.”

The diversification of Sunset’s offerings helped the McCalls weather the storm of COVID, keeping as many staff members employed as they could. They were also able to share their expertise with other restaurateurs who were not used to curbside and carry out service.

Even though the days are long and the growth of new eating establishments in the county has added competition, Mike said being a restaurateur is worth it. 

“If you’re having a tough day [and] you look out in the dining room and see a family sitting around the table praying together, you realize you’re providing a place for them for their fellowship and their time together. It erases some of the weariness of addressing the ever-changing nature of being in the restaurant industry.”

“I think that’s always important to us to help families maintain time around the table,” Renee noted, underscoring the importance hospitality has played in both of their upbringings. 

Renee pointed out that in addition to being a gathering place for families, the Sunset also serves as a social meeting spot for single adults in the community. They keep one community table available for individual diners to join, so they, too, can gather with others while enjoying a home cooked meal.

The Sunset also sponsors a number of community organizations each year, including CareNet, REACH, Macon Program for Progress, and a Tree of Warmth at Christmas.

Renee’s daily role in the restaurant has ebbed and flowed as their family has grown from three children to 10 grandchildren, plus spouses. And, while both their family and hometown have grown and changed over the years, the McCalls find three things have held constant since buying the Sunset in 1977: their partnership in running a quality restaurant, their faith in God, and as Mike says quietly, looking over at Renee, “Our family is always around the table.”

The Sunset Restaurant is located at 488 Harrison Street, Franklin, and is open Tuesdays-Fridays 7 a.m.-8 p.m., and Saturdays 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

Amy Kirkpatrick is a member of the Macon County Beekeepers Association.