Carol Fay Ellison brought a smile to the face of everyone she met. As the youngest of 9 children and a single mother herself, Carol Fay knew the value of hard work. She spent most of her childhood in the kitchen with her mother preparing the meals for their large southern family. Her father passed when she was only two years old. It was this time with her mother that showed Carol Fay the value of a strong work ethic. Born and raised in Nashville, she first began working at the Loveless Cafe in 1979 as a dishwasher while she was still in high school. For years, Carol Fay would watch the workings of the busy cafe while she scrubbed away in the back of the kitchen. One day, after the cook called in sick, Carol Fay stepped away from the sink and in front of the stove. By the end of the night, she had proven her abilities and, over the years, she worked her way up until Carol Fay was, among other things, the keeper of the prized biscuit recipe and the only one that could make the famous old-fashioned preserves. Through the years, many of Carol Fay’s coworkers came and went, but she stayed – never imagining that one day, she would become the face of the Loveless Cafe.
In the fall of 2003, Carol Fay and the rest of the Loveless staff got the news that the Loveless Cafe was being sold. There were rumors the cafe would be bulldozed to make way for a strip mall, but instead, the cafe was saved by a group of native Nashvillians that saw the value of the cherished community asset. After 50 years of continuous operation, the Loveless was in desperate need of repairs and was to be closed for the first time ever for the much-needed renovations. With only an occasional weekend off here and there, this was Carol Fay’s first real vacation in 25 years – although she never even left Nashville during her break. She returned from her hiatus not only well-rested but well-respected. A new staff and management team no longer saw Carol Fay as just another employee – they knew she was much more than that. During the reopening of the Cafe, when stress was boiling over quicker than a pot of grits, it was Carol Fay who always remained calm. It was Carol Fay that was always smiling. It was Carol Fay that had the answers to all the questions; after all she had done virtually every job in her 25 years at the Loveless.
Carol Fay Ellison was a rare breed. She was hard working, compassionate, dedicated, and most of all, a true gift to those who knew her. The values of hard work and dedication that she learned early on from her late mother reigned true through her entire life – often coming in on her days off. Her smile simply lit up the hearts of those that saw it. Her spirit continued to leave an indelible mark on the people she met, always giggling, always smiling and always appreciative of the joys in her life. Carol Fay did not greet you with a handshake, she greeted you with a hug. Having never really left Nashville, Carol Fay’s eyes widened with new experiences. In less than a year after the reopening of the Loveless Cafe, Carol Fay saw her face in LIFE magazine, her name in Gourmet, and her photo on the front page of USA Today. She had the opportunity to make biscuits with Katie Couric and Al Roker of NBC’s TODAY and Harry Smith of CBS’s Early Show, travel to Los Angeles for the Ellen Show, teach Conan O’Brien techniques for making great biscuits on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, show Martha Stewart some Southern hospitality on Martha, “throwdown” with Bobby Flay on Food Network and cook with Paula Deen in her Savannah kitchen. She traveled to Philadelphia to appear on multiple programs on QVC and sold thousands of cookbooks in mere minutes. Carol Fay was grateful indeed for the chance to live life in a way she never knew existed – to travel the country, meet the stars . . . and for once, to feel like one herself.
Carol Fay passed in April of 2010 but has left a legacy of love and laughter at the Loveless that will live on forever. In conjunction with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the Loveless Cafe created a legacy fund in honor of Carol Fay. The Carol Fay Ellison “Biscuit Lady” Award Fund is just one way to keep her spirit alive. The second, of course, is by enjoying those amazing biscuits.
We invite you to take a moment and watch a few of Carol Fay’s TV appearances. We trust you will see why she is still so loved by so many.