he White House Café opened in 1907 in downtown Camden by Hristos Hodjopulas, who had moved to southern Arkansas from Greece. The wedge-shaped edifice was built right next to the train tracks, a two-story structure at the end of the downtown district. Shortly thereafter, Hodjopulas sold the place to his cousin James Andritsos, who kept the place open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The restaurant became well-known as a stopping-over place where customers could be found at the custom-welded all-steel bar at all hours of the day and night. The original menu featured Kansas City-style steaks cooked on a hot griddle, turned quick for travelers.
During World War II, the White House and its proximity to the tracks led to it being a popular spot for soldiers being moved by train – who could quickly grab a hot meal before having to re-board for other destinations.
After the war, Andritsos sold the White House to a couple from China, Lum and Josephine Ying. While the restaurant was by this point no longer a 24-hour affair, it did serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Yings added chicken fried steak, meatloaf and hamburgers to the menu.
Ted Bradshaw bought the White House in 1981, and his daughter Caroline added Tex-Mex food such as nachos, enchiladas and fajitas to the offerings – without taking away the dishes the restaurant had come to be known for. Bradshaw turned around and sold the restaurant to Bill and Mary Bethea the next year. They renovated the old living area upstairs and brought the café’s steaks back to prominence.
Over the years the White House changed hands several times. In 2000, Tommy Vaughan and Teresa Lampkin purchased it along with a business next door, which they renovated to expand seating capacity for the place and to add another staircase. The upstairs is now a lounge where customers can smoke or drink, play pool or watch sports.
Today, the White House Café still stands, spread across half a block on the east side of Adams Avenue, southeast of downtown. From its upper deck in back, you can look out over the tracks a block away and see the Ouachita River beyond. Within, the walls are decked with a century’s worth of memorabilia and newspaper clippings. Neon signs hang in the windows, and that great steel bar still spans the front room.
Lunchtime comes with its own pleasantness, featuring plate lunch specials that showcase many of those old historical offerings – roast beef, chicken and dumplings, chicken fried steak, meatloaf, smothered pork chops, and of course, fish on Fridays. The side dishes listed each day could come from any “Lower Arkansas” home – “candy” yams, fried potatoes, cabbage (sautéed in a pan), turnip greens, pinto beans, squash, purple hull peas, buttered corn or whatever happens to be available that day. A slice of Texas toast or a johnnycake comes along with the plate, and there’s usually a dessert – a slice of icebox pie, a scoop of cobbler or a chunk of pound cake – to choose for dessert.
The steaks are still ample, and the Tex-Mex fare is spot on, with some of the best fajitas to be found on this side of the Red River. They come to the table sizzling with an array of sides – tortillas, guacamole, lettuce and tomato and sour cream, rice and beans, enough to share for two. The White House Café even offers two different sorts of cheese dip – its popular white and a yellow version.
The White House Café is open every Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, call (870) 836-2255.
First Image: Arkansas’ oldest restaurant celebrates 110 years in 2017, but there’s nothing really different about lunch at The White House Café in Camden these days, except the television sets.
By Kat Robinson :: Photography by Grav Weldon.