Ms. Kitty’s: Where the road meets ‘down home’

Charis Patires

They call her Ms. Kitty. Not the wrestler or the television western star, but the woman behind the counter making home-cooked meals and serving libations.

Destroyed by fires and a flood, Ms. Kitty’s has moved a few times.

While the location may have changed, the friendly owner has not.

It is a scenic, curvy drive through the Ozark mountains to St. Elizabeth. Drivers in the small town wave as you motor past. You’re greeted with a smile at the door. 

Born and raised in Ashland, Mo., owner Joyce Willhite is known by the locals simply as Ms. Kitty. It is a nickname that was given to her years ago by customers when she owned the Riverfront Inn in Tuscumbia.

“Because I have red hair, own a bar and always wore a flower in my hair, they started calling me Ms. Kitty,” Willhite said. “Everywhere I went, people asked ‘Are you Ms. Kitty?’ My mom and dad even called me that. That’s just the way it goes.”

In 1993, she purchased the restaurant on St. Elizabeth’s town square.

It is truly a family business.  Her daughter Becky Cochran moves from the bar to the kitchen, taking orders and talking with customers.

Around the corner from the dining room there is a play area for children full of toys, games and even a television.

You can always find Ms. Kitty in the kitchen peeling potatoes, making a fresh batch of iced tea or working on a homemade pie. The restaurant is known for the prime rib and cheeseburgers it serves food from the moment the doors open to closing time.

There are 13 of them.

The 70-hour work week doesn’t always come easy, but there are usually an extra set of hands around.

“Every one of my grandchildren have worked here,” Willhite said.

“There are days I work 16 hours and don’t sit down. Some days, I have to ask God for a little strength, but I get it done,” Willhite said.

The job is what keeps the family together, Willhite says. There have been plenty of ups and downs. Four years ago, Willhite lost her only son Randy after he suffered an aneurism. 

Since it’s a place where everyone is considered family, relationships are strong.

“There are a lot of good people here,” Willhite said. “I’ve never seen a day I hated to come to work in the 30 years I’ve been in business. People are my business and they are like family here.”


To get to Ms. Kitty’s from Tuscumbia. take Route 17 over the Osage River and turn left onto Route 52 for about 13 miles. Cash or checks only. Closed on Sundays.

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