Only in the Deep South will you find a popular restaurant with “double wide café” in the title. Indeed, there once was a comfort food place established in Atlanta, GA named Butch and Sissy’s Double Wide Café. While it’s long been closed down, I still have fond memories of my time there… and really funny ones, too.
Let me start by putting things into context, drifting off the main story for a bit to explain how I came to work there… When I graduated from college with my Bachelors degree in Biomolecular Science, I didn’t go directly to medical school. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even apply while I was a senior. Instead I spent almost 14 months doing other things – anything I could find.
My first adventure was working as a wrangler on a 137,500 acres ranch in northern New Mexico. After New Mexico, I moved to Atlanta. I applied to medical school and proceeded to work a wide variety of jobs while I waited to officially start school. First, I was a carpenter’s helper, gutting warehouses and turning them into condominiums. My resume could include demolition enthusiast, clean-up artist, stair-building master and sheet rock repairman. Early on it was clear that the construction job wasn’t gonna pay very much, so I started some side jobs. I was a theme park actor at Six Flags, and for various movies, I stood in as an extra. Also, I took acting jobs in industrial films. I actually got paid quite well for doing a voice over for Home Depot. By the end of my time in Atlanta, my only job was as a lifeguard – truly a jack-of-all-trades.
Throughout the whole time there the longest job I had was as a waitress. I worked at two different restaurants. By far, Butch and Sissy’s Double Wide Café was the most hilarious. And, yes, I have witnesses to its existence – and uniqueness.
Down in Atlanta’s Little Five Points, there once was a restaurant plopped between a recycled clothing store, comic book/record store and a pharmacy. As years grew on, this restaurant went through many owners, many names and many types of cuisine. When I lived there, it was being converted from a pizza joint into a comfort food/Southern-style establishment.
Before I was even employed by Butch and Sissy’s, I helped out my friends with the renovations. I painted, moved equipment, renovated tables, etc. We didn’t have to paint walls, of course, because they were all true trailer park wood paneling… good stuff. :~) The kitchen was mostly set up from all the previous owners with burners, ovens, grills, warmers, stainless steel work spaces, and the essential Hobart (the king of industrial dishwashers – what Otis is to elevators.) The most needed work was to upgrade the tables and hang paintings on the walls. They wanted to give the restaurant that certain flair.
To that end, we began with all of the tables. We took each one, sanded them down and an artistic friend painted them. We had one with Marilyn Monroe, one with a gorgeous horse, one with the ocean, etc. After she painted them, we coated them with a thick coat of shellac. Those were some hilarious nights – maybe because of the banter, maybe because of the fumes or maybe a combination of both. When we had time, we would often sit around for hours visiting even when the painting was done. Other times we rushed off to softball or rugby games we were scheduled to play in that night.
As for those wall pictures… well, the owners started with the two kings: the king of rock and the King of soul. That is, they mounted two velvet pictures – one of Elvis and one of Jesus. Additionally, just as you walked in the door, we hung an original painting. The artist friend painted a picture of a tornado with all of the employees’ heads sticking out of different portions of the storm. We were all portrayed caricature-style. It was so cute – from the skateboarder to the skinny girl to the bike rider to the constant baseball cap wearer (me). She was a great artist. Even strangers could pick us out from the painting.
After those weeks of decorating, they pretty much just opened the doors for business. No fan-fare, no grand opening…just “let’s get goin’.” I’d never actually intended to work there. They found themselves needing extra hands, though, so I jumped on board and officially became employed at Butch and Sissy’s Double Wide Café.
Working at Butch and Sissy’s wasn’t quite like any other restaurant. You weren’t hired as a server or a cook or a hostess – you were just hired. Most days, I was a waitress. The clientele was widely varied. The majority of folks were locals – laid back, casually dressed, working-class people from the neighborhood. We had comfort food for low prices, and it was an easy place to hang out. You could overhear music from the record store or from the local street guys. Little Five Points is that eclectic kind of place that many tourists like to visit, so we also got a lot of out-of-towners including some celebrities wanting to get a real feel of Atlanta while staying off the beaten path. We had the occasional actor/actress, but we were more likely to see the musicians. To be honest, half the time I didn’t even recognize them. (They look so different when they’re being themselves.)
All our customers made it fun to serve them. I really don’t remember any disgruntled ones. Mostly I remember all the customers who were kind, patient, generous and best of all, had a great sense of humor. They admired the kitschy décor and the constant variety in our menu due to chef changes. No matter who cooked it, though, the food was always good. The food and the laid back atmosphere kept ‘em coming in to hang out and eat.
While I was primarily a server, on some days, though, I was a busser and runner and hostess… Occasionally, I was the dishwasher or the go-to-the-store-to-get ___ person. At times, I even stepped in as the “chef” – ok, “cook” would be a better description. One day, I showed up to wait tables and the chef had run away. I’m not kidding – the chef didn’t quit. We just lost the chef. So, in a pinch I subbed in… we were, after all a Southern comfort-food restaurant, which is perfect for a born and raised farm girl from South Georgia. I made meatloaf, collard greens, rice, tomato gravy, baked mac-n-cheese, corn-on-the-cob, fried chicken, sweet potato soufflé and fried okra. Fortunately, I was raised well and could pull off Southern cooking just fine. Everyone was full, fat and happy. I was still hostessing and waiting tables at the time since we were shorthanded. It was actually kind of fun, and none of the customers complained.
There was another night when the infamous “somebody” had forgotten to do inventory and make the weekly supply order. On that night, each table I sat, I explained to them: “welcome to Butch and Sissy’s – tonight you will be eating… “ I explained I would bring seat #1 fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans; seat #2 ham with collard greens and creamed corn; seat #3 meatloaf with collard greens and black-eyed peas; etc. Not one table got to order. They ate what I brought them or swapped out with their neighbor. Still – no complaints. That was just how we rolled at Butch and Sissy’s, and everybody knew it.
It was a wonderful joint and a hilarious time. No matter what, I will never forget Butch and Sissy’s Double-Wide Café or all the people I encountered working there. I hope the newest restaurant in the space is just as fun and just as weird.