FROM THE ARCHIVES: Jay’s Downtowner, Seafood not just about fish

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Editor’s Note: From March 24, 2010, this article was one of the last features for longtime SNAP lifestyles editor Jo Anne Efird.

In 1956 Ed Sells opened Stony Gap Fish House in Albemarle. Pat and Mick Cagle and Ann and Jay Stallings went there to eat. There was a long line of people waiting to get in. They were impressed and inspired. “We can do that,” they said.

A year later they opened Pat and Jay’s. When Ed Sells died, his wife, Vernie Mae, didn’t want to run Stony Gap and contacted J.D. Stallings.

Jay and Ann Stallings bought it and opened Jay’s Seafood on Stony Gap Road in Albemarle in 1967. Son Ned came into it in 1973.

Ned, who was a sophomore in high school when he started, remembers picking up rocks to build the fireplace at Pat and Jay’s. His son, Vic, is running Jay’s Downtowner now, the third generation. Two other sons, David and John, are also involved at the location on Stony Gap Road. A daughter, Mary Stallings, works elsewhere.

Jay’s Downtowner opened in 1980.

The building that houses Jay’s Downtowner on East Main Street, Albemarle, was built by CCC labor as were many local buildings of the era. When the present owners got in it all the windows were broken and Stanly Dairy had closed and it had gotten worse and worse.

When they started it was “all you can eat” for $1.25. They served fish only. They bought the first hush puppy machine in the area. That  changed things. Then they added hamburgers, then jumbo shrimp, then mini shrimp.

The buffet at Stony Gap was $10 for all you can eat, drink included, and still is.

“We put half a loaf of bread  on each table, slaw on each table,” said Cheryl Boone, the Stallingses’ daughter.

“They were long tables. You knew the other people when you left,” said Ned Stallings.

“Mother always said if one thing you try doesn’t work, drop it and do something else,” said Boone.

At first they served nothing but fish, and seafood is still their specialty. They now serve all sorts of seafood as well as other food, including fried out fatback on occasion.

“You think people are health conscious,” Ned said, “but they eat that fat back.

“You learn a lot of people. Good memories are the wonderful customers we have and the friendships we make.”