While sitting in her bar, Peanut’s Mecca Lounge, Melinda Rhea talks about her nickname. She is not quite sure when or why the nickname “Peanut” came to be her other, and sometimes only, identity, but, she didn’t seem too bothered by the name and even joked that people must prefer that over her given name.
Born and raised in Carter County, Rhea took up bartending at age 20 and after 69 years, she has announced that she will retire this week.
She said that in 1976 she bought the Mecca Lounge, as it was known until about three years ago before her daughter, Nancy Mack, added “Peanut’s” to the name.
Rhea said she had been tending bar at another place, but decided to branch out on her own and bought the Mecca from a friend.
She said her role as owner has changed quite a bit over the years, noting that in her first eight years of operation she cooked lunch and dinner for customers, which ranged from hamburgers to steak to nearly any kind of sandwich imaginable.
She said she’s also seen her business fluctuate in crowd size as well.
“It’s changed quite a bit,” Rhea said. “When I first (came) here it was real busy, but the past five years it’s slowed down a lot.”
Mack and Chanda Hughes, Rhea’s granddaughter, will soon be taking over as the new owners of the bar, but the 89-year-old matriarch celebrated the end of her reign with a party Saturday night at the Galaxy Lounge filled with friends, family and entertainment.
“She doesn’t know how much she’s loved and respected, so we’re hoping ... this anniversary/retirement party that we give her will show how much everybody loves and respects her,” Mack said.
Mack said she’s got some pretty big shoes to fill and she hopes to carry on the traditions the Mecca has held for many years.
“(Rhea is) a big inspiration. When she came to town, she worked as a waitress, so after all that time she’s built herself up and bought her own business and owned her own business,” she said. “I just hope that I’m able to run it to her standards and follow in her footsteps, because she is noted to have one of the best bars in town. I want her to be proud of me after I take over and I want her to say that the legacy that she left me is something she can be proud of. That’s what I want more than anything.”
Mack said her mother’s last day before retirement will actually be on Wednesday, which is the anniversary date of when she first started her work at the Mecca Lounge.
“She’s a dedicated worker. She’s semi-retiring. She’s still going to work a couple of days a week,” she said. “I want her to retire and relax and be happy and she can still come in the Mecca and work anytime she wants to, because it will always be Peanut’s Mecca Lounge.”
Rhea said that even though she felt as though her time as an owner and bartender was up, she said she’s thoroughly enjoyed her time at the Mecca Lounge.
“I just enjoyed working and enjoyed talking to people and serving people. It’s been nice,” she said.