Not every restaurant can say it serves a plateful of home cooking at a reasonable price, but owners of a new restaurant in Bartlett say you’ll be back once you check them out. They cook like a Southern mama does.
The Taste of the South Restaurant and Event Hall opened Aug. 1, and owners Latoya Butler and her mother, Clara Butler, have seen steadily rising business ever since.
Want the house specialty of crisp-tender catfish fillets, or would you rather have grilled shrimp with a side salad? How about a hot bowl of greens, black-eyed peas, cabbage, yams or boiled okra? Can you make room for meatloaf, liver and gravy with rice, or fried pork chops? They also can do baked chicken, Chicken Alfredo, chicken tenders, wings, spaghetti with meatballs, fajitas and more.
They keep their deep fryer busy, but they also do heart-healthy grilled dishes and adapt traditional recipes to be a little healthier when they can, such as cooking cabbages and green beans with turkey instead of pork.
“We have the options,” Latoya said. “So, if you’re in the mood for the fried catfish, we gotcha. If you need your catfish or tilapia or shrimp grilled, we gotcha that way too. … You can choose your danger. Number one, it’s just good to see a smile on your customer’s face and satisfaction.”
It’s not their first time in the kitchen. Clara’s mother was known for her good cooking, and she passed her skills along.
“It’s good cooking in the family, period,” Latoya said, smiling. “It’s our first restaurant, but we got people that cook good for the family.”
She described it as a family-oriented, God-oriented business. Clara said they passed on their first opportunity to open Taste of the South, but God spoke to her daughter and told her another chance was coming and they need to pay attention.
Clara operates their nursing agency, Clara Butler Nursing and Personal Care Services Inc., so she was skeptical at first about taking on a second business. She also takes care of her special-needs sister and her father, so she manages her time carefully. After some thought, she decided to trust her daughter’s clear vision of the new business.
“After she told me what she received, then I had to come on board with her to see what she was really already seeing – ‘Mama, let’s just do this.’ So it was my daughter’s persistence that really got this Taste of the South on board here,” Clara said.
Latoya said, “I let God lead me. I pray about everything and I worry about nothing.”
Their staff includes siblings, adult children, in-laws, nieces, spouses and friends who are close enough to be called family too: Their employee Patricia Coleman is “Mom No. 2” to Latoya and the backbone of their operation. And their landlord, Barry Holbrook, is a close friend who acts as their biggest encourager. The owners and many staff members are highly educated, including Clara, who is a registered nurse; Latoya, who is a registered respiratory therapist; and Coleman, who is a medication training administrator.
The restaurant has small tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, each with a Bible verse displayed. Seats at the bar line up around the open kitchen, and a steam table keeps the day’s fresh vegetables piping hot. A cake – strawberry today from a local baker – is under glass on the counter next to a small cooler with cups of the popular banana pudding, sweet potato pie, Oreo Delight and other desserts.
Their adjoining event hall handles their overflow and can be booked for special events, business meeting and church organizations who want group seating at the hall’s big round tables.
Eating out can be expensive, but Taste of the South dishes range from $3.50 for shrimp skewers to $12 for a half-slab of ribs or $24 for a whole slab. Three-veggie plates are $3.99, and four-veggie plates are $4.99.
“We try to have four or more vegetables available a day,” Latoya said. “And that’s what most people want. They say they’re tired of driving out far. They want something local that’s gonna have fresh cooked food. We don’t have canned greens. We get up here at 6:30 or 7 o’clock in the morning and we’re doing greens, peeling potatoes, yams – everything is fresh.”
Coleman said, “We’ve got that down-home home cooking for the soul. … A young man said this morning, ‘It’s like being at home in the kitchen with Mom!’“
While their cooking is like home, their training is up to the latest health standards for a business. They received Health Department training about safe preparation, storage and serving of food at their restaurant.
They also understand the demands that their customers face. “If you call us, we go ahead and get it ready,” Latoya said. “You can walk in, pay for your food and go. Because most people don’t have long breaks.”
People also enjoy a little social time dining in, she said. Some repeat customers include a retired teachers’ group, as well as several men who like having a place to sit and talk and watch sports on the event hall’s big projection screen.
They tell the Butlers, “We really appreciate you, thank God you’re here, and we hope you last a long time.”
Latoya said, “We really enjoy our customers. We’ve got people who’ve been coming since Day One and come almost every day. It’s like you almost become in the family with the customers. They come every day and they talk. You talk about your day, and they tell you about their day and their family.”
Coleman and the Butlers praised each other’s strengths and said teamwork is helping them to succeed. Their faith undergirds all parts of their work, too.
“Everything we do, I think that the way we look to be successful, we try to put God in front of everything,” Latoya said, mentioning her restaurant’s use of Bible verses on the menu board and on each table. “…You never know how somebody’s day was. They coulda had a bad day and they could come in and read that and they can change something that they were going through, just by spreading the Word. So any kind of way that I can do God’s will and implement something positive in somebody’s life, through the means of healthy food, through them reading the Scripture. They might have had a bad day, and just greeting them, you know – ‘Welcome to Taste of the South’ – or just give them a good meal. Maybe they haven’t had a good meal. That’ll put a smile on your face. It’s all about spreading love and being healthy and promoting healthiness and just trying to do everything in excellence.”
Clara said, “Sow good seeds,” and Coleman finished for her, “and you reap the harvest.”
CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.