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Virgil Cannon treated all his customers alike - as family

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Tuesday, December 5, 2017

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Pastor Leepolian Turner, with his wife Virginia, said he would come back to Cannon's to work shifts just to be around Virgil Cannon.
 

Jim Fair

Pastor Leepolian Turner, with his wife Virginia, said he would come back to Cannon's to work shifts just to be around Virgil Cannon.

 



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 Bobby Jones said he moved into the house next to the restaurant when Virgil Cannon spent $30,000 for renovations.
 
 

Jim Fair

 Bobby Jones said he moved into the house next to the restaurant when Virgil Cannon spent $30,000 for renovations.

 

 



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JD Micals, Leon Everett and Virgil Cannon at Cannon's Restaurant before Micals and Everett headed to their recording studio.
 

JD Micals Photo

JD Micals, Leon Everett and Virgil Cannon at Cannon's Restaurant before Micals and Everett headed to their recording studio.

 



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Scotty Cannon's 2007 IHRA Championship sign is weathered hanging on the side of Cannon's Restaurant.
 

Jim Fair

Scotty Cannon's 2007 IHRA Championship sign is weathered hanging on the side of Cannon's Restaurant.

 



• Obituary

Virgil Cannon was a caring man with a large extended family that included his many employees and customers at Cannon’s Restaurant.

Cannon hired teenaged boys as car hops. They eventually worked their way into his wait or kitchen staff. His restaurant was a sanctuary after school and it became a place of income when their homework was done.

He put roofs on a worker’s house and his brothers. Cannon provided a means for people to afford homes, vehicles, and fed and provided a room for the hungry and homeless. Cannon's was also a popular stop for country music artists.

Cannon, 76, died last Thursday. A memorial service will be held Saturday at 3 p.m., at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church to honor an iconic restaurateur who was a servant to his community. Cannon’s wife, Sandra, died in 2006.

The Cannon Centre is named for the Cannon family, who deeded land to the city for the original Horace McKown Center and surrounding Park. The arts center fronts Cannon Street.

“He was just a giving person,” Scotty, his son, said.

Pastor Leepolian Turner said Cannon, “was always like a servant father to me. Virgil saw a need in me. It didn’t matter if you were black or white, and back in those days it did at some places,” Turner said.

Turner served in the Army 21 years and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He married, Virginia, and they both practiced their faith ministering in churches and on the radio (Virginia, WJPM 800 AM).

“Virgil was more than a dear friend to me,” said JD Micals, former radio host (WOLT 103.3 FM) and producer of The Hollywood Starlight Show, featuring classic country music. “We became family when I started advertising for him on my radio show. 

“Who would have known the turnout at that restaurant on the hot dog special day,” remembered Micals. “Cannons would sell over 3,000 hot dogs and hamburgers would exceed 2,500. People would come from all over for those chicken livers. Virgil would bring chicken livers, hotdogs and hamburgers to the radio station and I would be eating those livers on air telling the listeners to listen to that crunch.”

Turner vouched for Cannon's food, noting  a jumbo cheeseburger cost, $1.25, back in the day. “Virgil was known as serving the best hotdogs and hamburgers around,” Turner said. “He made such good cole slaw, it would make you want to lick the plate clean.”

As an employee Turner said there was a sure sign when food wasn’t up to Cannon’s standards. “Most of the time you wanted to see his (Cannon’s) face. If he wouldn’t eat it, he wouldn’t sell it.”

Cannon's food was a reason for country music artists to make the restaurant a stop.

Micals said the picture of him, Virgil and Leon Everett, was taken in 2013 on the way to the recording studio. “Whenever I had a show in the Upstate the artist and I would come there to eat. Folks like Ronnie Dove, Narvel Felts, Billy Joe Royal and Ronnie McDowell enjoyed the warm feeling you got there. Plus the food and service was always really good.”

Turner said he would visit Cannon’s in his latter years and work at the restaurant because it felt natural and to help Cannon.

“I had been ‘feeling’ him the two nights before his death,” Bobby Jones, 50, a long-time employee said. “That really surprised me, we’re like brothers.” Jones has since changed his last name to Myles but wanted his natural name used for this story,

When Jones learned of Cannon’s death, all he could say to his wife, Lacey, was, “Pops died.”

Jones also began work as a carhop at Cannon’s. "He said he worked for Cannon for the past 38 years.

Jones, a former basketball star at Greer High School (he also played football) remembered what it was like coming to the restaurant after school. “He made sure we did our homework and had something to eat before we could work,” Jones said.

“The first day I worked as a car hop I made fifty dollars,” Jones said. “I gave half to my momma.”

Jones has a degree in business management and is certified in Culinary Arts.

Cannon served about 20 plates of free food a day, Jones said. “The homeless had no where to go and he allowed them to come to Cannon’s. There was a back room behind the restaurant where some stayed.”

A sign on a back door, with big bold letters, also reads “No Free Food”.

Scotty Cannon had been interested in fast cars and worked his way from Greer Dragway, through the National Hot Road Association into an international sponsorship. Virgil had some reservations about the sport that turned out to be Scotty’s livelihood.

“One day all these well-dressed men came into the restaurant to meet with Scotty and Virgil,” Jones said. They were there to convince Virgil of his son’s stardom and their desire to market him as an international dragster. Virgil hesitantly gave his blessings, Jones said.

Scotty went on to fulfill his dream, becoming the 2007 Top Fuel dragster in the International Hot Rod Association. A weathered sign with nearly all lettering now faded outside the restaurant is a reminder of Scotty's accomplishment. “He (Virgil) changed his mind and came around,” Scotty said.

Cannon had a way with his staff when he wanted to point out errors or improving customer service.

“He had a way he wanted things done,” Jones said, with a smile. “He would come up to you and point his finger and say ‘Now, I’m not fussin’ at you. Now, I’m not fussin’ at you.’ He explained why I needed to do things a certain way. He would pitch a fit. The next day he would see me and would hug my neck. Sometimes, a couple weeks later he would apologize. He was funny that way.”

“His clientele was his people,” Elwood “Arthur Murray” Durrah said. “I came here and worked after I came back from the Army.”

“I remember one Thanksgiving Virgil said ‘JD, since you have no family, why don't you spend it with Lucille and me,” Micals said. “We are your family. I will never forget that," Micals said.

Jones said he told Cannon he was getting up in his years and could better help if he lived next door to the restaurant and take over when any shift went down.

“You know (Virgil)  put $30,000 in this house and I moved in (next door to Cannon’s).”

When Jones lost his trailer in a flood years ago, a short distance from the restaurant, Cannon, “found me a trailer to live in at Lake Lyman. He would pick me up every day and bring me to work and home," Jones said. “He told me, speaking of his employees, ‘If you be all right, they will be all right.’”

Turner said it wasn’t unusual for Cannon to pay rent and a car note of a employee.

“Greer has lost a true icon and I lost a very dear friend," Micals said. "So I hope I can speak for all that have known and knew Virgil Cannon, thanks for the memories.”

“We were all shocked to hear of Virgil’s death,” Turner said. “Sometimes you don’t know what God brings . . . “

  

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