For a place that turns a lunch crowd in a 50-seat restaurant like O’Carr’s Restaurant does, owner Cameron Carr loves going slow. He prefers to mash his potatoes with antique potato mashers from his collection dating from the 1860s. When making cakes, he beats his eggs with beaters that date from 1820s. Holiday crowds at his home don’t make him break out paper plates; he pulls from one of 20 sets of holiday china he inherited from his mother. And neither his home nor either of the O’Carr’s locations have dishwashers; every dish, glass and piece of cutlery is cleaned by hand. For a man accustomed to catering to a frenetic lunch crowd, Cameron is more than happy to slow down and enjoy the moment.
O’Carr’s, the restaurant Cameron and his wife, June, run together, has been a Homewood institution for 43 years. It opened as an ice cream parlor in November 1975.
“We realized quickly that wouldn’t work,” Cameron says. “It was winter!” The duo, who lived in an apartment off Green Springs, quickly added a soup and sandwich to the menu, and sold them for 99 cents each. “That’s great,” he says. “But even a great day with 100 people only brought you $99.”
They didn’t have a phone at first, so customers would call Little Professor and with their orders, which the bookstore owners would run down to the restaurant. But no, Little Professor no longer takes phone orders for O’Carrs, so stick to calling the restaurant directly.
From there, O’Carr’s expanded to offer specialty grocery items, then catering. In the 1970s, O’Carr’s regularly catered for major concerts happening up to three times a week in the Birmingham area, feeding the crew, roadies and the band. “We did that as long as we could, but then the restaurant grew busier,” Cameron says. “That was a great thing, but it meant we couldn’t do 20-hour days catering.”
Throughout the changes to the menu of the Homewood restaurant, which now offers a full lunch spread and a variety of desserts including its signature milkshakes and warm cheesecakes, one thing remained the same: June and Cameron’s bond. “June ran the dining room while I was in the kitchen,” says Cameron, who married in June 1973, just two years before starting O’Carr’s. “We added staff one by one, and they’ve each become family.”
The Carrs currently live in a loft above the downtown O’Carr’s, so going to work means going downstairs. Working and living so closely could cause problems for some couples, but the Carrs have thrived. “Problems at work don’t get better at home,” Cameron says. “Gotta get problems solved quick and put a moratorium on knee-jerk reactions. You can always say ‘I’m sorry,’ but you can’t unsay it.”
To keep a balance, the Carrs keep Sunday, their only day off, sacred. “We work when other people play,” Cameron says. “Sunday is precious to us.”
While running the restaurant over the decades, the two raised a daughter too. Cameron would leave for the farmers’ market at 4 a.m., then see his daughter when she stopped by the restaurant for breakfast before school at Hall-Kent. “And we always had dinner together,” Cameron recalls. “We never got babysitters. We couldn’t afford it, but we also felt it shortchanged our daughter because we had so little time together.”
June and Cameron now have, in addition to their daughter, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren. As their family and restaurant has grown and changed, so has Homewood. “When we opened, there were eight restaurants in a four block area. Now there are 49.” Cameron ticks the local retailers off on his fingers. “Shaia’s can tell you what threads go into your shirts, and how they’re twisted. Mantooth has really nice furniture. At Home has great furnishings.” And while much of Homewood has changed, some things haven’t. “We’re comfortable enough that if we have a problem or an attaboy, you can just walk to City Hall,” Cameron says.
The next time you walk into the classic restaurant and place an order, take a minute to look around. You’ll likely notice June seating regulars and Cameron telling the crew to pull the turkeys out. When you take a seat, you’ll feel like family. And while nothing at O’Carr’s feels particularly styled, that one element is completely by design.
Quick Questions for Cameron Carr
Years in Homewood? We got our first apartment in 1973.
Favorite menu item? Asparagus Salad
Best milkshake flavor? Peach or Blackberry
Favorite fruit? Pears
What to try on your first visit? Of course the chicken salad, but also the turkey or roast beef—we roast them every morning, just like Thanksgiving.
Chicken salad sold per week? Up to a few thousand pounds per week
Favorite musician? Chuck Mangione. When I was catering, I was so excited to cook for him before the concert, then he wanted no food! He requested a six-pack of Diet Coke and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.