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Todd Thompson, a friendly restaurateur and antique collector, dies

Todd Thompson shows a congressional tag U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows donated to Harry's and Piggy's. Todd Thompson shows a congressional tag U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows donated to Harry's and Piggy's.

Stephen Todd Thompson, a sociable front-of-the-house host and storyteller and avid collector of classic signs and other relics of the Old South, died on Saturday of a heart attack after several weeks of poor health, family members said. He was 59.

One of two brothers who worked along with their mother, owner Sallie "Piggy" Thompson, at Piggy's and Harry's ice cream bar and restaurant, Thompson was known for his friendliness and for entertaining patrons.

"It's always been a family business," said his brother, Jeff Thompson, who was busy preparing a catering job Monday morning. "We're going to miss him. If he had known how much work he left me, he'd come back....  He liked to talk. He was a lot like our dad."

He was preceded in death by his father Harry Zebulon Thompson; paternal grandparents Geneva and John Thompson; and maternal grandparents Daisy and Albert Mauldin. In addition to his mother, he is survived by brothers Michael (Elaine) and Jeff (Tamra); sons Dalton and Holden Thompson; goddaughter Courtney Herron; nephew Hunter Thompson; nieces Caleigh, Sallie Kate and Suzanne Thompson and a large extended family. He is also survived by his best friend Richard Staton (Mindy) and his canine companions, Hammer and Daisy. He will be missed by many people whom he counted as friends.

A native of Henderson County, he was a 1974 graduate of Hendersonville High School where he played varsity football for four years. He received his associate of science degree in horticulture from Blue Ridge Community College in 1977. He was an apple grower for many years and was named Young Apple Grower of the Year in 1980. He left apple growing to help manage the family business in 1996. He was well known among members of the Henderson County business community. He was a member of the Blue Ridge Apple Growers Association, the North Carolina Apple Growers Association, the Apple Country Engine and Tractor Association, the Hendersonville Elks Club and the First United Methodist Church of Hendersonville. He served for many years on the Hendersonville Planning Board. He liked to claim that he was a self-appointed Texas Ranger.

Thompson had been hospitalized for about five weeks, first at Pardee and then at Mission in Asheville, with heart and lung problems, Sallie Thompson said. He had bypass surgery late last week at Mission and was doing better.

"I talked to him Saturday morning at 9:30 and he told me, 'I think I have to get out of the chair. I feel like I'm about to fall out,'" she said. "The next call I got was that he had a cardiac arrest, code blue."

Besides running the ice cream parlor and restaurant — known for its old-fashioned home-cooked cheeseburgers, hot dogs, barbecue and fries — Thompson and his mother were avid collectors of the license tags, funny signs and amusing name places that cover every square inch of wall in the restaurant.

"He loved to fool around with all this junk we got in here," Mrs. Thompson said. "We'd go to flea markets. Until he got to feeling bad we'd go to Jonesborough, Tenn., about every Sunday. People would bring their goats and horses and pigs. It was a country market."

Thompson did not have an organized system for cataloging the signs and other antiques but could put his hand on something when called on. Last May, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows stopped in for lunch (declaring that any politcian seeking to know Hendersonville has to go to Harry's and Piggy's). Meadows and his staff looked at all the walls for the 11th Congressional District license plate he had donated to the Thompson family. Todd Thomspson appeared, displaying it with a wide grin and making a wisecrack. "We put it on my mother's car," he said.

Harry, the patriach, was a son of the family that owned Thompson Produce Co. on Seventh Avenue. He and Sallie started the ice cream bar and sold antiques, too.They called the shop Piggy's, Harry's affectionate name for his wife. In 1992, the couple decided to expand by adding a restaurant. The restaurant opened in May of 1993, four months after Harry died suddenly from a heart attack, according to a restaurant history on the Harry's and Piggy's website. They named the food side for their father. Thompson is also survived by his brother, Michael, an attorney with the Van Winkle law firm.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church, followed by private services to spread his ashes here and at family property in Anderson, S.C. Asked how she would want the community to remember her son, Sallie said, "He was just Todd."

"He wanted to be cremated," she added. "He also told us not to close this business. That's why we're open today. We will be closed Wednesday" for the funeral service.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Blue Ridge Humane Society at 1214 Greenville Highway, Hendersonville, NC, 28792. Condolence cards may be sent to the family at or PO Box 945, Hendersonville, NC 28793. Jackson Funeral Service and Crematory is in charge of arrangements.