Sharon Rodney has dedicated her entire adult life to cooking and serving food for others, not only as a mother, but as a restaurant owner.
Now in her 60s, Rodney has been working for over a decade to turn the Coon Dog Inn restaurant in Fredonia into a local institution.
Rodney left California and moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, after visiting and taking care of her parents in Eddyville. After living in Clarksville for several years, she decided to sell her home and invest in the Coon Dog Inn.
The building functioned as a gas station among other things before turning into a restaurant decades ago.
Established before Rodney became the owner, it’s one of two dining options for Fredonia residents. Rodney said many people rely on it for a “good hot meal.”
“It’s hard for a small restaurant to survive without the owners having hands-on,” Rodney said. “To me, that’s part of the success.”
Rodney’s mother was in the business. She worked in diners until she was able to own her own. Rodney followed in her mother’s path and committed to providing food for and sharing food with others.
Much like the rest of the businesses in Kentucky, the restaurant and Rodney struggled during 2020. She said the COVID-19 pandemic caused her to close on Sundays and stop the Friday dinner service.
The pandemic also forced some employees to not return. Currently, Rodney has a staff of eight.
She said it wasn’t until last month when she began to see normal sales again. She explained that summer tourism is a key driver of revenue for the restaurant. It is local support throughout the entire year that keeps the business alive though.
“It started picking up when the governor lifted the mask mandate,” Rodney said.
Rodney said that sales were reaching an all-time high in 2019, just before the public health emergency.
“All of us in here have worked during this whole thing, and we’ve all had our own struggles with the Covid stuff,” Rodney said.
With help from local businesses, radio stations and community members, the restaurant made it through despite being closed for indoor dining for most of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.
Rodney recalled that to-go orders and gift certificates supplemented the missing sales.
Rodney explained the possible expansion of U.S. 641 will bring in more business and noted that many customers travel from Lyon County and elsewhere. However, she did explain that construction will significantly disrupt her business and others in town.
She said economic development is desperately needed in the area. She noted that rural infrastructure is not suitable for investors, yet a highway will build community development capacity and help the town prosper in the future.
In addition to adapting to pandemic conditions, Rodney took advantage of a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. Without it, she said the restaurant would not have made it to 2021.
“I hope all of us have learned some kind of lesson from this,” Rodney said. “But it’s still a struggle, and you still have that over your head.”