The Epting family has a history of recognizing opportunities to make money, and it was an opportunity in that tradition that led to one of Athens’ most storied sagas — the T.K. Harty murder.
“I had always wanted to have a restaurant,” Lee Epting says. He also loved preserving old buildings, and when he learned in 1970 from his fraternity brothers that the Southern Railway depot was available, he was intrigued. “I could combine my interests in the restaurant business with historic preservation. It sounded like a lot of fun.”
He bought the property but needed investors to make the project viable. He persuaded several local friends, each with a particular asset, to join him.
That was the beginning of The Station, a cluster of businesses in the depot and imported railway cars, that would soon become Athens’ favorite gathering spot. T.K. Harty operated T.K. Harty’s Saloon; John Mooney later ran Somebody’s Pizza. Epting managed the total facility and oversaw The Valdosta kitchen, the railcar with luxury dining. The three men negotiated an agreement over who could sell draft beer (Harty), who could sell only canned beer (Mooney) and who could pour liquor (Epting).
From the beginning, Epting had concerns about two of his partners.
“T.K. was a Yankee. He was abrupt, and he had ways that weren’t Southern,” Epting says. “He made his money at Westinghouse, and he would come down here and hang out.”
Mooney had worked for pizza restaurants in Atlanta, Epting recalled, with the intention of “learning how they operated the business, grabbing their recipes and absconding with those. That always bothered me.”
Initially, the agreements held and business was good for everyone. But envy between Mooney and Harty grew into anger. Mooney wanted to sell draft beer and negotiated a deal with a local distributor to provide it to him for free, violating the terms of the lease and enraging Harty. When Epting sold The Station to Harty and left Athens, Harty promptly evicted Mooney, setting off the chain of events that led to Harty’s murder in 1977, and ultimately Athens’ featured story on an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”
For more on this story, listen to the Classic City Crime podcast “The Murder of T.K. Harty.”
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