The Owners Of Chuck’s Dairy Bar Are Still Serving Their Community Even Though The Tornado Destroyed Their Building

"People have been so generous in donating food and things, so we've just been able to just give it back, love on the community for a while, feed the volunteers."

Tracey Harden Owner of Chuck's Dairy Bar

CHANDAN KHANNA / Contributor/Getty

Chuck’s Dairy Bar has been a staple of the small Mississippi Delta community of Rolling Fork since it was opened by Charles “Chuck” Henderson in 1977. The town itself has ties to legendary bluesman Muddy Waters and Teddy Roosevelt, who went bear hunting nearby, leading to the creation of the “Teddy Bear.” 

In January 2007, Chuck’s was purchased by Tracy Harden and her husband Tim. While it was his idea, it soon became her domain. 

Chuck's Dairy Bar Sign

Caroline Eubanks

“We were a farm family, but the guys got ready to sell out of the farming business and wanted to buy the dairy bar, which is not something I wanted to do. I clearly, clearly remember telling him, ‘Don't buy that thinking I'm doing that because I'm not doing that,’” says Harden, who moved to the small town from outside of Vicksburg. “It's kind of been my baby ever since.”

Not only was Chuck’s one of the few restaurants in the town of under 2,000 people, but it was a gathering place for the community.

“It feels like home to me, to a lot of people, and the community as a whole. Most of the customers, they come in not just to eat, but to talk,” she says. “If they're having a rough day, we just talk about their rough day while they're waiting on their meal or happy news. We get all the happy news. It's a place where people can go and de-stress and also have a meal.”

But on March 24, 2023, everything changed. A tornado hit the town around 8 pm, devastating everything in its path, destroying most of the homes and businesses and ending the lives of 13 residents. Among the rubble was Chuck’s Dairy Bar. 

Harden was working alongside seven employees and her husband when the storm hit. 

“It being a Friday, I hadn't even looked at the news. It wasn't even on my mind. It was such a busy day.” 

Her employees had received messages about the coming storm and before they could even hear a siren, the lights flickered and they quickly took cover inside the restaurant’s walk-in cooler. 

“My husband opened the cooler door. He started pushing us in there, and I'm thinking, ‘We're going to get out of here in a few minutes and get on back to work. Everything's going to be okay,’” she recalls. 

The strong winds tried to force open the door and through the opening, they saw the sky, telling them the roof of the restaurant, where the Hardens had served the people of Rolling Fork for over a decade, was gone. 

“We're in the cooler and just packed in there. We're being moved around back and forth. The back of the cooler is broken just a little bit and debris started coming in and raining… We're still praying and screaming and praying it would end soon.” 

Just as quickly as the storm had arrived, it was gone. A customer returned to the scene to free them from the cooler after phone calls for help went unanswered. 

“My husband and I were the last two to come out. When we walked out, we would have been standing in my office, but we were just standing outside. The building was completely gone. It was just... I don't know. Everything was gone.”

The Hardens were met with shock as their building, the two surrounding motel buildings, and trailer park behind it were all gone. Tracy’s first thought was the people who lived there, her customers and neighbors. 

Despite the devastation of Rolling Fork, Chuck’s Dairy Bar is cooking once again after a neighbor donated cooking supplies and another donated a trailer. The restaurant is once again operational, although with a different format. 

“People have been so generous in donating food and things, so we've just been able to just give it back, love on the community for a while, feed the volunteers. We've been feeding people every day for about two weeks, no charge. Come by and get a hot meal for lunch. It's keeping me sane,” says Harden. 

The town of Rolling Fork continues to rebuild, which will no doubt be an extensive process. But in the meantime, people can help the residents with donations, both material and financial.  Rolling Fork Baptist Church and South Delta High School have both become hubs for contributions. 

The support for Chuck’s Dairy Bar has been one constant. 

“I've received so many cards and gifts, and it's just, all over the world, it's just overwhelmingly wonderful to see so much care and love and for this little bitty community that's hardly known. This has been wonderful,” says Harden. “I just love it. It wasn't home, but it sure is now. So we're doing okay. We've kind of found a new normal.”

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