Sidewalks crisscross the lawn in front of Ayres Hall, providing students pathways to traverse the Hill and its many buildings. But off to the side of South College, away from the paved concrete, a dirt trail leads down to a place most students never see: Ray's Place.

A small restaurant nestled into the bottom of South College, Ray's Place offers fresh sandwiches, coffee and hot lunches, as well as dedication to customer service from its unique owner, Ray Mowery, Sr.

Why is he unique? With two quick taps of a quarter, Ray casually explained that both of his eyes are plastic.

"I stuck a nail in my right eye when I was seven, and was running through the house a year later and tripped over a throw rug on the floor and fell on the chair and the arm of it knocked my left eye out of the socket," Ray said, adding that he's glad God only gave him two eyes.

"As I've said all of my life, aren't you glad God didn't create us with four eyes? Think about it ... as spastic as I was, I would've had two more accidents," he joked.

His light attitude translates to the checkout process at Ray's. Customers simply tell him what they are purchasing and how much money they are giving him. Ray often offers deals on meals, like a ten-cent discount on a sausage biscuit and coffee because it's "good ole Friday's Eve."

"Everybody here is really friendly, talking to Ray is always cool. He treats you as a friend even though he probably doesn't know you from anyone else," said Ryan Hammond, junior in biological sciences and frequent customer at Ray's. "Every time I've ever talked to him it's been a good conversation."

Garrett Barnett, sophomore in food science and technology, said he probably eats there twice a week.

"It's really convenient being on the Hill ... it's nice being right next to our classes," Barnett said.

The food is prepared fresh daily, and has been for the past 24 years. Ray and his family make sandwiches, cook a variety of hot lunches and brew their own coffee and tea.

"We run a very small operation, but a full complement restaurant," Ray said.

Born and raised just five miles from South College, he is happy to be part of the Volunteer community.

"I get a blessing out of just knowing that God has granted me the opportunity to not only meet all of you wonderful young people year after year, but that I can share some of the blessings that God has blessed me with," Ray said. "I employ, part-time, several UT students. I'm tickled to death that I can, in a small way, contribute to the campus life here."

For Ray, the small restaurant is more than a job.

"I enjoy being with all of you wonderful young people," he said. "I'm really relaxed here and I consider this place my home."

Ray's Place is open Monday through Friday, from 6:30 a.m. to around 3:30 p.m.