Local Couple Refurbishes Historic Post Office Into RFD Franklin Restaurant
Photographer / Amy Counts
Several years after the town of Franklin endured the 500-year flood of 2008, the city was trying to decide what to do with the old post office and former city hall that sits one block away from the downtown square and had not been in operation for a while. There was talk of making it into a city court or perhaps tearing it down to create a parking lot. But local residents, Lesa McDaniel Talley and John Talley, had a strong interest in historic preservation and a love of old architecture.
“We wanted to do something where this beautiful stately structure would be open to the public and make it accessible so our community could come in and enjoy the atmosphere,” says Lesa, who obtained possession of the property in the fall of 2017.
The couple met with city leaders to gain support for a project to restore the historic building while creating a restaurant that would draw visitors to Franklin and create new jobs. They wished to feature a menu that would appeal to local and regional guests.
The first order of business was renovating the space.
“We were able to use the original blueprints in the county museum to assist us to faithfully restore the post office as much as possible,” Lesa says. “To make sure the project was feasible we interviewed and selected architects, contractors and engineers, made sure it was a project we thought we could do, then went back to the city with our more detailed proposal and went forth.”
The overhaul took about a year and a half to complete. They installed essentially all new electrical, new plumbing and a new heating and air conditioning system. They also removed the loading dock in back to obtain room to build a 1,500 square foot addition to put in a new kitchen, storage space and ADA compliant bathrooms. Also, they built a deck with an ADA ramp. Throughout the process, they remained sensitive to the historic nature of the building.
The restaurant, which they named RFD Franklin, opened in May 2019. They chose the name because they wanted to pay homage to its roots as RFD is the rural free delivery system that was developed in the United States to deliver mail to people in the country. They also embraced the concept of “real food/fresh dining,” a wordplay with RFD.
Community response to the establishment has been highly favorable as folks indulge not only in delicious food but also the fun of relishing nostalgia.
“People love to share their experiences in the building with us,” Lesa says. “They’ll say, ‘I remember coming here with my grandmother to pick up the mail,’ or ‘I worked here. It was my first job!’ They have very nice memories to share. People definitely have good feelings about the building.”
Lesa isn’t surprised, she feels the same way.
“This is such an exceptional property,” she says. “This building occupies a prominent location in the city and a special place in the hearts of community members. Structures like this are not being built anymore. The main floor has high 14-foot ceilings and two skylights that reach to 23 feet tall with gears to open windows. It has great natural lighting. It’s just a very different architectural style from what you see nowadays.”
John and Lesa used original postal artifacts to decorate the restaurant. For instance, two sets of almost 100 brass mailboxes make up the focal wall that hides the entrance to the kitchen. Those mailboxes came out of Madison, Wisconsin’s state capitol building.
“It certainly adds to the ambiance,” Lesa says. “It’s something everyone notices and comments on when they come in.”
The tile in the lobby is original, and they installed vintage colored tile in the addition to maintain the 1930s vibe. They sanded and sealed the original maple floor of the main dining room, too. The wainscoting along the walls is original as are the interior doors and brass hardware. The bathroom toilets and sinks are replicas from the time period.
The light in the vault took Lesa more than a year to find.
“It’s an original fixture of that age,” she says. “I wanted something to help make the vault feel like a special intimate dining space.”
She studied the blueprints when selecting the pendant lighting for the rest of the building. “We tried to be as faithful to the period as we could,” she adds.
Cuisine options in the scratch-made kitchen include steaks, seafood and pasta.
“We bring in the various fresh fruits and vegetables, and we cut our steaks and our salmon in house,” says Lesa, noting that popular dishes include their fillets, the ginger-glazed salmon and their Crème brûlée. A customer commented that the Crème brûlée was the best he’d had since he’d been in Paris.
“We also have a really good mac-n-cheese that pleases both children and adults,” Lesa says.
Favorites at the full bar include the Manhattan, margarita and mojitos. They offer different specials daily and weekly, as well as a soup of the day.
“That helps keep the menu interesting for both the staff and guests,” Lesa says.
The restaurant, which currently seats 120 inside and 50 on the patio, also offers private dining in the postmaster’s office, which seats 12-14 and the vault, which seats four. Over the vault is a secret room called the Lookout Gallery.
“It was used by the postmaster or postal inspector to secretly view the activities on the work floor and monitor employees for compliance with all the requirements,” Lesa says. “There are secret passageways that lead to it.”
If you’re looking to step back in time while enjoying a scrumptious meal, check out RFD Franklin.
RFD Franklin, located at 55 W. Madison Street in Franklin, is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9 p.m., Friday from 5-10 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. for brunch and 5-10 p.m. for dinner. For more information, call 317-733-7333 or visit rfdfranklin.com.