This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published July 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.
The Daily Capital Journal newspaper dated November 5, 1938 stated it perfectly. “Some people have a way of always making you feel welcome. That’s the spirit that’s in the air at Friendly Farm. A place for the traveler to stop and get real home-cooked food, and a mecca for the townspeople to supply their tables with fresh fruits, flowers, and vegetables in season. Listen closely now – we have a surprise for you. Marguerite Sumpter has finally decided to serve her public that scrumptious fried chicken – cooked and seasoned exactly like mother made.”
Friendly Farm restaurant at 4645 Portland Rd. attracted families in the Salem area for over 30 years. Marguerite and Jim Sumpter started off with a fruit stand, selling produce from the family farm where Marguerite had lived since she was ten years old. Customers soon demanded light lunches, so the couple began serving sandwiches in a small building Jim built on the property which seated seven customers. Several years and additions to the building later, Friendly Farm became a full-fledged restaurant known for Marguerite’s special recipe fried chicken, potato salad, hot biscuits, and fresh, home-made pies.
The Sumpters made a great team. Jim was headwaiter, bottle washer, and soda jerk when needed while Marguerite ran the kitchen and mothered the local girls they employed as waitresses. Jane Kerber, one of their girls, wrote many years later that Marguerite was the real boss at Friendly Farm, but both she and Jim were more like parents to all the girls that worked for them. Jane also recalled. “We would get so busy – especially on Sundays. Marguerite would be frying the chicken and French fries or mixing up another batch of her special potato salad all while talking to the customers, laughing and joking. When it got too hectic Jim would say ‘And this too shall pass away!’ And Marguerite would say, ‘Now Jim, its O.K.’” The restaurant’s busiest day on record was Mother’s Day, 1957 when the restaurant served 450 dinners.
Friendly Farm kept seasonal hours, open from February to December. The Sumpters enjoyed their winter break, often traveling to sunny, warmer climates around the world. During their travels Marguerite would write cheery newsletters to longtime restaurant customers, employees and neighbors with the details of their trips. She was also a faithful correspondent to many former employees and customers serving in the military during World War II and the Korean War. One particular correspondent was Harold L. Hill, a graduate of Salem High School who served 3 ½ years in the Navy during World War II. Her letters pulled him through a few rough patches in the South Pacific, including homesickness and a hospital stay. His letters, which Marguerite saved give us a glimpse of the food, atmosphere and warmth found at Friendly Farm restaurant. In one letter dated April 11, 1944, he asked Marguerite to play “I Ain’t Got Nobody “ on the juke box to remember him by, promising after the war to “park myself in my favorite booth and eat chicken till I haven’t got any room left except for two or three helpings of potato salad.” Harold kept that promise in 1946, the year he returned safely from war and married his sweetheart, LaVile Czarnetzki.
Little did Jim and Marguerite Sumpter know when they first opened up a fruit stand in the 1930s the impact they would have. One of their former neighbor girls Myrna Landon McHugo wrote in 1967, “As I grow older with my husband at war and life sometimes very sad…I often think of the summer spent with you at Friendly Farm laughing, smelling the heavenly smells and am comforted by the love of two wonderful people who gave me so much happiness.”
After Jim Sumpter passed away in December of 1969, Marguerite decided to retire and closed the restaurant the following year.