Chef's Table - It pays to be green

chef's table

At lunchtime on a recent weekday, a steady stream of patrons - office workers, cops, blue-collar types, students, families with kids - crowd the snug Collard Green Cafe where Savannah-born owner James Paige dishes out his Southern specialties (including collards, fried chicken, yams, green beans and oxtails) along with a smile. After 12 years at Shoney's, Sizzler and Le Peep, he opened his own business, moving into new digs at Shallowford Road off I-85 a year-and-a-half ago.

Creative Loafing: I see a lot of diversity in your customers.

Paige: Sixty percent of my customers are white. Seventy percent are regulars. Ninety percent of my business is takeout.

[At this point, a regular, Veronica Davis of Lithonia, steps up and offers an unsolicited testimonial: "I am a nit-picky woman. But I come here all the time. I like the food and he's heavy-handed with the portions. I always take a plate home to my husband."]

What the difference between soul food and Southern cooking?

Nothing. There's no difference except the ethnicity of who's eating it.

[At this moment, another regular, Bob Lowery of Snellville, joins the conversation: "What James makes is Southern food: It's consistent, healthy, wholesome and nourishing. I feel full and ready to call it a day when I'm done eating. I choose to eat here over fast food. I'm here three times a week."]

Who's your competition: Is it Mary Mac's, the Beautiful Restaurant?

Whoever is in the immediate area. I'm lucky that so many businesses are nearby: Emory, Mercer, AT&T.

How'd you come up with the name?

I was sitting in church. And looking at all these beautiful black people. And you know we love fried chicken and collard greens. I was going for the Sunday crowd.

Is it hard to find and keep help? How many folks are working with you?

I'm blessed. All my people - four or five - have been with me for a while.

How many hours are you putting in?

Monday through Thursday I work open to close. My wife won't let me work but part of the day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Collard Green Cafe, 566 Shallowford Road. 404-634-3440.

- Suzanne Wrightchefstable@creativeloafing.com

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