Every year at Thanksgiving, locals knew they could enjoy a free dinner at Sam and Elsie's, a popular Route 1 restaurant and bar owned by the Watts family for more than 50 years.
Bar stools were removed to make room for the buffet, which typically included a dozen turkeys, saurerkraut, potatoes, string beans, dressing and close to 40 pies. They came for the turkey and fixings, but many remember most the pies — pumpkin, lemon meringue and apple — baked by the Watts' younger daughter, Agnes Faye Furr, who eventually took over the family business after the death of her parents in the late 1970s.
Furr ran the restaurant with her husband, William "Billy" Furr, who died in 2007; and sons, Harvey Hall and Thomas Karie-Fenton, until selling the business three years ago.
A livelong Laurel resident, Furr died Aug. 22. She was 79.
She was born in Savage on Feb. 1, 1934, into a family of eight children of parents Sam and Elsie Watts.
Her older sister, Regina Watts Smith, said Furr owned an ice cream shop in Savage while helping her parents at their restaurant. When she took over running the restaurant, Furr attracted customers with her outgoing personality, Smith said.
"Everybody knew Faye, and everybody liked her," Smith said.
Sam and Elsie Watts opened their restaurant and bar in a small white house on southbound Route 1 in 1955. According to Furr's granddaughter, Lisa Watts, Sam and Elsie's was home base for the extended family, and various family members lived above the bar in five bedrooms and a living room.
The unpretentious North Laurel restaurant once had pool tables and an often rowdy late-night crowd. The restaurant maintained an uncomplicated menu of sandwiches, hamburgers and seafood dishes boasting of shrimp and crab; most of the food served was the result of family recipes. Sam and Elsie's earned a reputation as a favorite lunch spot for Laurel workers, with others coming for the bluegrass music and live bands at night.
In addition to her pies, Karie-Fenton, of Savage, said his mother's crab cakes were so well known, that one couple would stop in as they made their twice-yearly road trip between homes in New Hampshire and Florida.
Furr was manager and dessert chef, and her parents' tradition of cooking and serving free Thanksgiving dinners for those in need — with her popular pies — continued under her ownership.
"She was a larger-than-life woman, strong, who ran her business and helped so many people when they were struggling," Watts said. "We would also deliver meals to homebound people as well as people in shelters and halfway houses."
In 2010, the restaurant was sold to current owner Gabra Afram, who said he got to know Furr through her weekly phone calls that began after he took over the business.
"She would call me every week checking on me, to make sure I was all right," Afram said. "I cherish that with all my heart."
Afram said he has maintained the same menu at the restaurant, adding, "It would be foolish to switch anything that is working."
He has continued the restaurant's tradition of helping to feed those who are less fortunate, but not with Furr's free Thanksgiving dinners. Instead, he holds special fundraising days when a portion of the restaurant's income is donated to charitable groups that feed the poor.
One thing that's changed is that Afram purchases his pies and desserts.
"Regulars have told me they aren't as good as Miss Faye's," Afram said.
Furr's family will hold a memorial celebration at Sam and Elsie's Thursday, Aug. 29, beginning at 7 p.m., following a 6 p.m. memorial service at Donaldson Funeral Home.