50 years and counting
Quality, hospitality and consistency are credited for restaurant’s success
The biscuits are handrolled and patted down before going into the over. Fresh chicken pieces or large pork chops are soaked in buttermilk, hand breaded and fried in small batches.
Fresh, tasty food served quickly, either by ordering at the drive through or ordering from familiar staff at the counter. That’s what Jack Howard wanted when he opened Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuit 50 years ago.
Howard, who died in 2004, had worked at General Motors for 10 years as a plant safety director. He left in 1958, Phil Howard, Jack’s youngest son said.
“He was always an entrepreneur,” Phil Howard said. “He would buy ‘brass hat cars,’ [cars owned by executives]. He would buy the cars and sell them. He got the first 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air in the United States. He kept it [hidden] in the barn.”
Following his departure, he opened a restaurant in Lakewood Heights, but it failed. For a while, he went into the laundry business – and he started to make connections.
In 1966, Howard met James and Sarah Ryder, Phil said. “Sarah was Mamie’s daughter. They operated that restaurant until 1966. They told him they had a restaurant for sale and I guess he wanted to do it again.”
So Howard bought Mamie’s, located at 968 Memorial Drive in Atlanta. Phil said the family, including his two brothers, Mike, the oldest, and Alan, the middle child, worked at Mamie’s. Phil said he started at the restaurant when he was 7 and was working the counter by the time he was 9.
“Eventually, everyone worked in the restaurant,” Phil said. Later, the Howard’s grandchildren would also work at Mamie’s.
Howard, Phil said, had a plan. His idea was to keep our food the highest quality possible and keep the price point as low as possible,” Phil said. “He always catered to the working man — though we did serve other [people]. We served everyone from the governor to actors to professional wrestlers to country western singers.
“My father said he wanted to take the same quality food but with a fast food concept, with a drive-thru” he said. “We were drive-thru before drive-thru was cool.”
Howard moved the restaurant from downtown Atlanta to Lithonia Plaza in late 1976, and it became a full service restaurant, capable of serving 250 people. He renamed the restaurant Mamie’s Kitchen.
“I was working somewhere else at the time,” Phil said. “I left the company I was working for in 1977 and took over the restaurant.”
For a while, Phil managed the Mamie’s in Lithonia Plaza, before his father sold the cafeteria and opened Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits on Evan’s Mill Road in Lithonia in 1978. “It’s been here ever since,” he said. A SECOND STORE IN COVINGTON
The store on Highway 278 in Covington was opened by Howard and his son, Alan. When Alan died in 1991, Alan’s son, Adam, took over managing the restaurant. Later, Mike would take over management of Mamie’s Kitchen. After Mike died earlier this year, Jack II, Mike’s son, and his wife, April, took over the store.
Phil took over the Evans Mill Road restaurant in 1980.
“The one on Evans Mill Road is the oldest,” said Tammy Howard, Phil’s wife of 30 years. “The line is out of the door all day long. It’s a small place and it’s the busiest.”
Howard opened a second store in Covington — Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits opened on Brown Bridge Road in Covington in 2000.
“The reason my dad named it Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits, because he wanted to differentiate it from the [store] at Lithonia Plaza. After that location was sold, they opened the restaurant in 278, followed by the Brown Bridge store,” Phil said.
Howard had opened a store in Conyers in 1982, which Alan and his father operated.
“In 1985, my parents bought a little piece of property in Helen,” said Phil. After Alan died, “my dad wanted either my brother Mike or I to move up to Helen, but neither of us wanted to relocate. So he sold that restaurant in Helen in 1991 and came back down and operated the Conyers location. I was in Lithonia and Mike was still in Covington.”
The Conyers store eventually closed, but Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits is still going strong in both its locations. CUSTOMER LOYALTY
Tammy and Phil own the Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits on Evans Mill Road in Lithonia and Brown Bridge Road in Covington. It’s at the Covington restaurant that Tammy decorated the seating areas, painting the walls a dark red and adding art, knick knacks and plaques painted with messages of welcome.
Both Tammy and Phil say they are deeply appreciative of their customers. Staff sometimes recognize people pulling up in their cars and knowing exactly what is wanted. Staff often have the orders of regular visitors ready to go even before the visitor has entered the door.
The couple is also proud that their employees stay with them. “We have someone who has been here for 22 years, another for 20 and one for 15. Some (servers) come and to work. Two of them (staff members) have been working at Mamie’s for 35 years, on and off,” Tammy said.
“It’s our employees,” she said about their restaurants’ successes. “Customers come looking for some of our employees. People come to see certain employees because they know their food. They want to come where people have been working a long time.”
Phil agrees. “I think it does something for the psyche of the customer when they see long-term employees. People want to come in and be treated nicely with good food.”
“People have told us it’s changed their day, Tammy said. “We’ve had customers tell us that the only hug they get is when they come to Mamie’s. Some have said the only good morning [they’ve] gotten is at Mamie’s.”
“We’re human; we’re not perfect, but we’re consistent,” said Phil. “People know when they come in the quality will be A plus.”
Some customers, Tammy said, ate at the Mamie’s in Atlanta. Now, “their kids eat here. We’re watching generations come through.
“When you have folks who eat with us for so long, their food is ready as soon as they walk in,” she said.
There are some who enjoyed Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits so much, they ask Phil and Tammy to have Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits serve chicken and biscuits at funeral services.
“We even had one customer whose son put a chicken and biscuit in his coffin,” she said
Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits, Tammy said, believes hospitality, long-time employees, great food and a decent price point are what makes Mamie’s a place people come back to all the time.
They also try to buy as much of their ingredients as they can locally. “We buy our breakfast meats from Holyfield Farms [in Covington]. “They make our sausage special for us.”
Phil and Tammy have been married 30 years. Phil, who had been a widower when he met Tammy, had a daughter, Amy, who was 3 at the time her mother died. Today, she is 33 and lives in Chicago. The couple had two more children – Melanie, 27, who lives in Winston-Salem, and Philip Junior, 24, who lives in Ashville.
“They’ve all worked here,” Tammy said. “They’ve wiped tables for extra money.”
Though none of their children are involved in the business, Phil says Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuit is a typical family business. “That’s why some of our employees have been with us for a long time. We love our employees.” CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
In honor of Mamie’s opening 50 years ago, the Howards – Jack II and April, who own the store on Highway 278, and Phil and Tammy – have held celebrations. Last weekend, DJs from Q92.3 radio were on hand, and customers could enjoy free hot dogs and face painting.
At the Brown Bridge Mamie’s Kitchen Biscuits, Tammy has already had customer appreciation events and will host more. The staff had also spent the first six months of the year cooking for a homeless shelter.
On Valentine’s Day, customers were given valentines that, when opened, revealed prize giveaways.
Special menu items are offered on some days. The day of the interview, the restaurant had strawberry cobbler as well as the traditional peach cobbler, and offered free vanilla ice cream.
This fall, Tammy said, “we’ll give away cuzzies [can insulators], mugs, hats, shirts. “We actually started in January, then Mike died and everything got crazy,” she said.
Giveaways, rollback prices and other specials and events will be announced on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=M emies_20kitchen_20biscuits.
“We have the shirts, and we rock!” Tammy said.
Phil laughed and said, “We’ll do another [celebration] on our next 50 year anniversary.”
Sandra Brands | The Covington News At Mamie's Kitchen Biscuits on Brown Bridge Road in Covington, Angela Stanley hand rolls and flattens biscuits before baking them. The restaurant is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
TOP: Mamie's Kitchen Biscuits celebrates its 50th year in business. Owners Phil and Tammy Howard, back row far left, are proud that so many of their employees and customers have stayed with them over the years. The staff at Mamie's includes, front row, from left, Daphne Montgomery and Brenda Phillips; center Angela Stanley; and back row, Phil Howard, Tammy Howard, Ann Vines, Mariah Stinchcomb, Willie Baskins and Cassie James. ABOVE: Mamie's Kitchen Biscuits built its reputation on its hand-rolled biscuits and fried chicken.