Burgers, goats, and a cave

Caves are pretty cool to look at and walk through, but have you ever eaten in one? Folks in Lanagan, Mo., get to enjoy that experience all the time.

Chris Black and his wife, Teresa Ezell, own and operate The Cave Bar & Grill, originally the home of Truitt’s Cave.

Restaurant guests can sit outside under the cliff of the cave at outdoor tables or inside the cave.

Truitt’s Cave was discovered in 1929 and named after John Truitt, who was called the “Caveman of the Ozarks.” Truitt discovered and developed six caves in the area as show caves.

It was opened to the public in 1938 and reportedly used as a restaurant during the 1940s. It was also advertised as a “cave restaurant of yesteryear” and mentioned in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” at some point in time.

According to showcaves.com it was later opened for free picnics then closed in 2000, sold to Debbie and Byron Stewart in 2002 and reopened. In 2004 it was closed again and put up for sale until it was purchased in 2011 by Black and his wife.

Before purchasing the cave, Black and Ezell lived very different lives in Indianapolis.

“I was a high school principal in Indianapolis and Chris was an IT specialist for the Department of Defense,” said Ezell.

Black moved to Lanagan first, and Ezell moved down in 2013. 

“I noticed that the United States was in a financial crisis and I took all my leave I had saved up and came here,” said Black.

He had joined an online chatroom before coming to Lanagan and connected with several survivalists, one of whom already lived in Lanagan.

“A group of us guys came to Lanagan and I stayed with the guy who already lived here, and the cave presented itself as an opportunity to purchase, so I bought it within a few weeks of moving here,” said Black.

The cave was originally purchased to be turned into a bunker/safe haven if the time came for it.

“Ten of us were doing on-site work and as time passed, several people had to re-join society again and go back to their jobs,” said Black.

Black eventually realized he would have to either go back to work or quit his job after his leave was up.

“They were doing ‘early out’ for retirement in my department and one guy passed the opportunity up, and it then was offered to me and I took it and stayed here,” said Black.

With Black’s retirement money he decided to turn the cave into a restaurant.

The cave sits on 50 acres with a dilapidated house on the property. When Black first bought the cave he lived in it for a year-and-a-half before moving into the basement of the house.

“When Chris moved here, I was still living in Indianapolis, watching the house and taking care of the kids and everything,” said Ezell. 

“I came down in September 2011 and saw a whole bunch of men and chaos, and thought they were crazy. Then when he said he wanted to open a restaurant, I started doing all the paperwork and the actual business side of things from Indiana.”

Ezell took care of the training manuals, menus, and everything for the restaurant while Black was getting the restaurant portion of the cave ready.

“There were several flooding issues that we had, but it’s to be expected with a live well cave,” said Black.

Ezell finally moved to Lanagan in May 2013, and they got married when she moved here.

“When Teresa moved here we lived in the basement of the dilapidated house for six months until we bought another piece of property with a house on it right around the corner,” said Black, adding that Ezell also bought the convenience store just down the road from the cave in September 2013.

In July 2013, The Cave Bar & Grill was opened to the public six days a week for the first year. The second year of business they were open seven days a week over the summer, but only on the weekends from October through April.

The third year of business they were open seven days a week in the summer and closed in the winter.

“It took us awhile but we finally got a schedule that works for us and the seasons,” said Ezell. “In the beginning we didn’t get a lot of campers, but it has really started to pick up and we get campers, floaters, motorcycle riders, and several families.”

There have also been visitors from Australia, South America, Brazil, Ireland, and Alaska.

The Cave Bar & Grill’s menu has everything from seafood to burgers, chicken tenders to soups, and salads to sandwiches. It also features a kid’s menu and a full bar.

The actual restaurant part of the cave seats around 65 people while patrons also have the option to sit outside under the cliff of the cave at outdoor tables. There are pool tables and a TV in both the cave portion and outside part of the restaurant, and if one is lucky he or she might even experience a bit of cave water over their head.

“We get most of our people simply by word of mouth. It’s cool to eat in a cave, but several people come for the goats,” said Black.

When Black and his buddies were planning for their bunker, they bought goats so they could live off the land. When Black decided to turn the cave into a restaurant, he already had several goats and just decided to keep them.

“It is crazy how much a simple goat can affect someone. We get so many families that come to eat and after they eat, they feed the goats and they love it,” said Black.

They have 28 goats that can often be seen on top of the cave or right next to the cave hanging out on the rocks. 

“Most of our people come because they have either driven by it and are curious or because someone has told them about us,” said Black.

Black’s favorite thing about having a restaurant is, “I am allowed to do what I want, when I want and with the people I love. You can’t ask for anything better.”

“I love meeting new people and seeing all our regular repeats,” said Ezell.

The Cave Bar & Grill has six employees, not including Black and Ezell, and they use an electronic system to do all of their ordering.

“We often get several large groups and serving them as fast as we do would not be possible without the system that we have,” said Ezell.

According to Ezell, they tend to get a few thousand people in and out of the restaurant each year.

“It’s a fun, family-friendly restaurant with cool scenery that you can’t get at any other place,” said Black.

At the end of March is when they open for the weekends, and after Memorial Day they are open seven days a week. Once winter comes they close completely. Each year may vary on the closing date. The Cave Bar & Grill is currently open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. during the week, and from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on the weekend.

Black and Ezell are very hands-on with the restaurant. Ezell works as a server and Black works in the kitchen as well as helping out wherever needed.

“We like to be a part of what’s going on and interacting with our customers,” said Ezell.

Together, Ezell and Black have three sons and all three have put forth effort in getting things ready to open and run the restaurant.

“It’s a lot of work and we’re not about the money. We really enjoy what we do and making it look nice,” said Black.

There are also plans to put in a waterfall at the restaurant, according to Black.

Although there is more to the cave than what can be explored in the restaurant, it requires much more work to be open to the public.

“We are not planning on opening our cave because it’s a lot of work to run a cave, but also because there is already a cave for people to see,” said Ezell.

Bluff Dweller’s Cave, located a few minutes south of Noel, sends people to The Cave Bar & Grill for the experience of eating in a cave, while Black and Ezell send people to Bluff Dweller’s who want to explore a cave.

“It really is a unique experience, the ultimate man cave. Come out and see what we have to offer and feed our goats,” said Black and Ezell.

By Mattie Link

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