Local Legends: Fred & Sherri Whitworth
Fred & Sherri Whitworth of Josephine's Tea Room
It all started with a cherry pie.
Or at least that’s one part of the story Fred and Sherri Whitworth, owners of the wildly popular Josephine’s Tea Room and Gift Shops, tell about their landmark Godfrey business.
“At first, Josephine’s was a small gift shop located in a building across the street from where we are now,” Fred Whitworth remarks on Josephine’s early beginnings 40 years ago. “People kept coming in and telling us they wanted a place where they could shop and eat. So one day my wife brought in a pie.”
It was a cherry pie, Sherri Whitworth remembers. And it was the start of Josephine’s Tea Room and Gift Shop.
“We had a pie keeper in the shop and there was a lady who would bring in pies. We served coffee and pie to our customers,” she remembers. Five years after the gift shop opened, the tea room was born.
Quickly outgrowing the original location, the Whitworth’s ultimately purchased four buildings on the east side of Godfrey Road, a short distance from Lewis & Clark Community College including a building used by the former Monticello College as a boarding facility for teachers. They converted the buildings into one large building over the years making room for the expansive gift shop and tea room.
Known for its quality menu and decadent desserts, Josephine’s has also evolved into a shopper’s delight and a haven for those who search for home decorating ideas.
Dessert tray at Josephine's Tea Room
“Everything on our menu is homemade,” Sherri points out. “It’s comfort food and it’s made fresh the day it is served. We have soups, salads and sandwiches. But we are known for our Lobster Bisque and desserts.”
Josephine’s is named for Sherri’s grandmother, a “wonderful, hospitable woman and I always want to honor her” who died one year before the opening of the original gift shop. Family is not simply a theme for Josephine’s, it is a way of life. Sherri’s sister, Sandy Cleveland a retired teacher, is the head baker. The Whitworth’s son, Troy, a professional landscaper designed the landscaping around the business. The four college age Whitworth grandsons work at the business every summer vacation. Even current employees are the children of former Josephine’s employees bringing everything full circle. Customers also carry on the Josephine’s tradition with grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren from the same family continuing to make memories.
“We have mothers bring their children and then before we know it those children are bringing their children in for lunch,” Sherri says.
Gift shop interior at Josephine's
Sumptuously decorated in seasonal displays, Josephine’s offers customers a garden of shopping delights ranging from clothes and jewelry to silk floral arrangements and more for the home.
“People come to Josephine’s for the employees and the food,” Sherri says. “We have customers from New York and California and they can have the best of the best yet they still want to come here! We feel that if a customer has driven any distance to see us they deserve to have good service.”
The Whitworth’s have spent 50 years in the Alton-Godfrey area and point out that tourism efforts are important to their business.
“We have the most beautiful portion of the Great River Road. That has a huge impact on this area. People love the old buidlings and home in the area. Tourism enriches the entire region. Tourism keeps us going,” Sherri says.