Trenton couple takes over Cotton’s Café

By Crystal Burns

Timing is everything.

Judy Oliver spent nearly four decades at Cotton’s Café in Trenton. She went to work for Coy Mackins as a waitress, expecting to help him for two weeks.

Seven years later, Oliver bought the business and ran one of Trenton’s most popular restaurants for 30 years.

“I’ve had a great time,” Oliver said. “I love the customers. It’s just time to go.”

Ellen Dudley has spent the last 10 years working as a paralegal in Dyersburg.

“I love my job, but I was at a point where I wanted to do something different,” she said.

Her husband JD had often told Oliver to call him when she was ready to sell Cotton’s. When she did, the couple made “an overnight decision” to make Cotton’s their new home, Ellen said. She’s there every day even as she continues to work part-time in Dyersburg, fulfilling some final commitments. JD works for TDOT but plans to help out at Cotton’s every Monday and Saturday.

“Cotton’s really is a staple in Trenton,” Ellen said. “Judy has been very successful and very patient and accommodating in teaching me what she knows. She’s gone out of her way to help me feel confident. We’ve got big shoes to fill.”

Cotton’s serves breakfast and lunch six days a week, opening at 5 a.m. and closing at 1:30 p.m. Oliver built a loyal customer base that included the “table of knowledge,” a group of regulars who occupied the front table every morning and generously shared their wisdom – real and perceived – with other patrons.

Cotton’s allowed Oliver and her husband Don to put their two children and one grandchild through college.

“I have no regrets,” she said. “People have been so good to me. I just can’t say enough about them.”

With more free time on their hands, she and her husband plan to go to a lot more Bethel University women’s basketball games. Their grandson Chris Nelson is head coach. And the couple may do some traveling. She said handing the business over to the Dudleys has made the bittersweet decision to leave easier.

“They’re good, Christian people,” Oliver said. “They’ll be good for the City of Trenton.”

The Dudleys hope to build on Oliver’s solid foundation.

“We want you to leave with a smile,” Ellen said simply.

They’ll continue to carry some of the traditional Cotton’s favorites with new additions, such as homemade desserts. There are also new and familiar faces on staff.

Their first day on the job was July 9, and Ellen said they had a good first week.

“Everybody has been great,” she said. “People are smiling and laughing.”

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