The Ranchero has served locals and the famous for more than 60 years.
Charlie Conerly, Joe Namath and Archie Manning are just a select few of NFL names who have walked through the doors of The Ranchero at its location at 1907 State Street
Even with the recognition that has brought athletes from all over to Clarksdale, the family business that has extended for three generations still builds everything around providing personal service to its local customers.
The community showed its appreciation by voting for The Ranchero to win five 2020 Press Register Readers Choice awards. The Ranchero won the favorite lunches, dinner, iced tea, catering and waitress awards. The favorite waitress was 23-year employee Bonnie Poindexter.
The late Nelms Mitchell was the original owner and founder of The Ranchero. Nelms died 27 years ago and his stepdaughter, Chris Green, and widow, Rose Mitchell, currently own the restaurant.
Green, who runs the business, said Nelms Mitchell was like a second father to her. She is from Lambert, moved to Clarksdale at the end of fifth grade, is a 1976 Lee Academy graduate, earned her Bachelor of Arts from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus in 1980 with degrees in home economics and merchandising.
Green’s husband, Gary Green, solves problems at the restaurant, repairing things that are broken and even helps cook when the business gets busy. Her son, Coleman Card, is also involved.
“Card is barbecuing the ribs,” Green said. “He’s also doing everything that has to be done.”
Card is a 2002 Lee Academy graduate and earned a marketing degree from Ole Miss in 2006. Green’s daughter, Morgan Walker, is a 2000 Lee Academy graduate and also earned a marketing degree from Ole Miss in 2004. She is currently a marketing representative for a land development company.
Green reflected on some of The Ranchero’s most memorable stories.
“We actually had two fires, one in ’83 and another in ’90,” she said. “Every single thing was burned.”
Conerly, a Clarksdale native who was the Ole Miss and New York Giants quarterback and died in 1996, had his shoulder pads there and they were burned. Nelms Mitchell and Conerly were best friends.
After each fire, The Ranchero was rebuilt in the same location.
While many things were lost, loyal customers brought copies of old pictures to put on the wall. Customers brought Ole Miss memorabilia and pictures of the only two back-to-back Miss Americas from Mississippi.
“Lots of locals would bring their high school pictures,” Green said.
“Then, we had Charlie’s trophies. He came and got them and cleaned them all up when they burned.”
Green said Conerly brought the trophies back and put them in a case after they were cleaned up.
“There have been a lot of people that have been through here,” Green said.
Namath, who won a Super Bowl as the New York Jets quarterback, met Conerly at The Ranchero.
“He came because they were having a grand opening of a convalescent home,” Green said. “It used to be called River Oaks.”
Former New Orleans Saints quarterbacks Manning, a Drew native, and John Fourcade, former Saints offensive guard Steve Korte and former Saints running back the late Hokie Gajan all ate at The Ranchero while waiting on the Elks Lodge Charity Golf Tournament. They had their picture taken.
The Ranchero has photos of Namath, Conerly and Nelms Mitchell, former Mississippi State football coach Sylvester Croom giving best wishes, Conerly and former Giants running back the late Alex Webster and an action shot of Manning playing quarterback for the Saints.
Manning wrote on his photo, “Very best wishes to all my friends at The Ranch. Archie Manning.”
Manning is in a picture with Conerly and former Ole Miss offensive guard and coach Johnny Vaught.
There is a photo of Conerly winning the Vince Lombardi Award. The Ranchero had a photo of Conerly winning the Jim Thorpe Award, but it is now at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson. Thorpe was an Olympic gold medalist.
“When my children were in elementary school, they’d do a book report and they’d do it on Jim Thorpe,” Green said. “They would take that award down for them.”
HBO also filmed a special on Conerly at The Ranchero.
“Rick Cleveland stopped by after the funeral,” Green said of the Mississippi sports columnist. “He wrote a really nice article,”
The diverse crowd has gone well beyond professional athletes.
“We definitely get tourists from all over,” Green said. “For the blues, they all come out here.”
What have the three generations done to attract so many different customers?
Green went all the way back to the beginning when The Ranchero was a drive-in from 1959 to 1976.
“A hangout for teenagers, that’s what started it,” Green said. “They would come in after school.”
Green repeated a comment a lady from Coahoma County, who currently resides in Florida, made.
“She told me that if you wanted everybody to think you had a date Saturday night, you would roll your hair in the big rollers and ride back and forth by the Ranch,” Green said.
As times changed, so did The Ranchero.
“He wanted a family restaurant and all the teenagers had grown up and he wanted them and their families to come here,” Green said.
Green said the taste of many foods changed through the years as they were made with different products and became healthier.
Customers will always have their favorite meals.
Two of The Ranchero’s Readers Choice awards were favorite lunches and dinner. She said the most popular lunches are fresh turnip greens and chicken and dumplings. She said the most popular dinners are steak, spaghetti and ribs.
One of the reasons The Ranchero won the favorite iced tea award was it stuck with the brand Cain’s through the years.
“We’ve used the same brand for a really long time,” Green said. “Even when they changed companies, they still kept their tea brand. It’s a really, really good brand of tea.”
Marinated shrimp, barbecue pork sandwiches and beef tenders are some of Green’s favorite catering foods.
“My favorites are the weddings because everybody’s happy,” Green said. “It’s just fun. It’s probably the most work you’ll ever do because it’s a lot of setup. A lot of thought goes into it ahead of time. Then, if you give them everything and the bride’s happy, then you’ve done your job.”
Green estimated Poindexter won the favorite waitress award eight or nine times.
“I think it would be that you don’t really have to ask for a lot of things,” Green said. “In other words, the regulars, she knows what they like to eat, how they like their steak cooked, if they like sweet or unsweet tea.”
Even with the coronavirus pandemic, The Ranchero is still providing curbside service.
“It’s very important,” Green said. “That’s why we’re here.
“I would say everybody wants to hurry up and go out. I want to hurry up and go home,” continued Green jokingly.
Green said The Ranchero is selling more casseroles and desserts since COVID-19 caused it to go to curbside service. She hopes to continue increasing sales in those areas when the restaurant operates as it once did.
She appreciated the customers’ loyalty.
“It makes you feel good inside that you work and give the best product you can and they appreciate it,” said Green of winning the five Readers Choice awards.
“It’s a very humbling experience and you work all the time,” she explained. “If you didn’t have your local business, you wouldn’t be in business.”
Green said Coahoma County residents consistently show a lot of generosity.
“They put everything aside and help everybody,” she said.
Green likes to show her own generosity.
“I’m always happy to support local people when things happen like the flood,” she said.