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Kennedy Retires after 34 years at Gaines Ridge

Betty Kennedy transformed the historic home where she grew up in Camden into one of Alabama’s best-known restaurants.

For the past 34 years, she has built Gaines Ridge into a fine-dining establishment that wins awards and keeps customers coming back. Her black bottom pie is on Alabama Tourism Department’s 100 Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die list. Another notable item on the menu loyal customers love are the hand-cut steaks.

Kennedy grew up in Gaines Ridge, an antebellum home built in 1827 on the edge of Camden, with her sisters, Mary and Hayden. Kennedy and her sister Haden dreamed of starting a restaurant.

Kennedy said the plan was to be more than a restaurant. “We wanted to do wedding receptions, showers, and parties too. “

She added, “Folks thought we were crazy to open the place. Most gave us about six months. But here we are almost 34 years later.”

After renovating the family home, the business opened in October 1985. She quickly realized Gaines Ridge was much more than just a restaurant. Since the opening, Gaines Ridge, with Kennedy running the show, has hosted hundreds of weddings, receptions, luncheons, and family reunions.

She said, “I tell people we can handle their needs in food from the cradle to the grave.”

Local resident Deborah Thompson said, “Gaines Ridge has become the center of our family celebrations from holidays, to birthdays, and weddings. We are so thankful to have access to this venue.”

Kennedy said that she didn’t work alone the past 34 years, claiming she has had help from one or two ghost friends. “All old houses have two things in common. One, they all have a pot of gold buried in the back to keep the Yankees from getting it.  Two, they all have a resident ghost.”

She said she blames anything that disappears and anything odd that happens on her ghost friends and has happily shared ghost stories with her customers.

After more than three decades of building a successful business, Kennedy just officially retired at age 85.

She said, “It has been a great ride.”

With more friends than she can count, Kennedy said she plans to now spend more time with her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. She also wants to travel with her sister and her friends.

Kennedy said she is looking forward to having more time to quilt and plans to teach and give lectures about quilting and rug-making.

Kennedy said that her favorite part of running Gaines Ridge was making so many lifelong friends. “I would put my customers up against anyone’s. I haven’t seen anything like it.” 

She has had many visitors since her retirement announcement. People from all over have come by just to see her in action.

Camden will forever love “Bet” and all the hard work she has done for the community. Ale McGraw, a local resident of Camden, said, “I believe that Camden, Alabama, wouldn’t be what it is without Miss Betty Kennedy and Gaines Ridge. Gaines Ridge will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Gaines Ridge will still be open but never quite the same without Kennedy always there to run the show.

Her son and daughter-in-law, Wes and Libby Kennedy, along with their son, Zach Kennedy, will keep dishing up all the hospitality, steaks, and famous pie for customers, maybe even with some help from a few ghost friends.