Don’t expect to find a woman named Sally Mae cooking at Sally Mae’s Kitchen, but portraits of the late Sallie Will Norrell Smith and Ena Mae Deloach Lanier, two Georgia ladies who knew how to cook, are on the wall.
Scott and Mychelle Haddon opened the restaurant, on Georgia Highway 67 near the Interstate 16 interchange, Nov. 7. Mrs. Smith, who died at age 88 in August 1997, was Scott’s grandmother, originally from Gordon County. Mrs. Lanier, also 88 when she passed in September 1994, was Mychelle’s grandmother, from here in Bulloch County.
Mrs. Smith, whose first name Sallie has changed spelling slightly in the restaurant’s composite name, is the one wearing pearls.
“If the church door was open, she was at church, so she always wanted to look her best,” Scott Haddon said.
He lays claim to his grandmother’s cooking for church socials and family as an inspiration. But Haddon also brings 40 years of experience working in restaurants to his first venture owning one.
He worked at Uncle Shug’s for six years and at Hungry Howie’s pizza for about five. He has been a supervisor for Bojangles’ and Arby’s.
“I just got tired of working for everybody else and decided to do my own thing,” Haddon said.
With that he could speak for many new business owners who have appeared on these pages, but few come to entrepreneurship with such a lifelong background in their business. Now 54, he started working at a KFC in Thomson, where he grew up, the day he turned 14.
Married more than 23 years, the Haddons live in Nevils, less than four miles from the restaurant. They have two teenage daughters, Payton and Logan, and Payton did the artwork for the Sally Mae’s logo. It features a place setting with a pig in the shape of a spoon – or is it a spoon in the shape of a pig? – and a fork resembling a chicken.
The location Scott Haddon chose for Sally Mae’s has been home to restaurants off and on for 12 years or more. Mychelle Haddon’s cousin Billy Lanier previously owned the building and had rented it to other restaurant operators. Scott Haddon keep noticing that it was for sale when he drove by going to and from Savannah and decided to buy the building and grounds from Lanier.
For those driving south from Statesboro, the restaurant is on the right-hand side of the highway, just past The Marketplace on 67, previously known as the Antique Mall. A larger former restaurant building, nearer I-16, remains vacant.
Haddon made substantial changes to the place he purchased before opening. He had a front sidewalk area enclosed, expanding the building to add 32 more seats, so that Sallie Mae’s can seat 82 people. He also added a drive-thru, with a concrete drive and a speaker box. Customers can order there or call ahead for take-out orders. He had the parking lot resealed and striped.
One thing Haddon didn’t add is freezer space.
“I turned my walk-in freezer into a dry storage area,” he said. “I don’t have very much freezer space here. I do everything fresh.”
Bone-in fried chicken, chicken fingers, slow-smoked barbecue and burgers handmade using 81-19 ground chuck from Black Angus cattle are available every day, he said. That means the ground beef is 81 percent lean, not a higher fat 73-27 or other lean-to-fat ratio.
The Sally Mae’s cooks make their own french fries.
“We make all our own sauces for the chicken fingers,” Haddon said. “We use real buttermilk. We use honey from B&G Honey Farm.”
Those sauces include a spicy ranch sauce and a Yum Yum sauce, similar to a sauce served in Japanese hibachi restaurants. He makes his own house seasoning for chicken and barbecue, and his own barbecue sauce, found in bottles on the tables.
Sallie Mae’s Kitchen offers catfish suppers on Friday and Saturday nights, with two fillets and two sides.
Unlike the fried chicken, Haddon’s smoked chicken halves aren’t available every day.
But he prepares two batches weekly and serves them Thursday through Saturday “or until they run out.”
Besides fries, available sides include potato salad, slaw, green beans and Brunswick stew.
“My Brunswick stew is the best seller,” he said. “It has 30 ingredients. So it takes a long time to make, but I’m pretty proud of that recipe.”
He’s also pretty proud of a five-star review he received on Facebook from Rusty Hollingsworth, a barbecue competition judge who praised the smoked chicken and Brunswick stew.
Breakfast and catering
Sally Mae’s also serves breakfast, including sausage that Haddon buys fresh and smokes himself, among other options. Business hours are 6 a.m.-8 pm. Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
The restaurant employs about a dozen people. Haddon hired two women who worked for him in the past, Shamonicka Dickerson and Jessica Davis, as managers. They also cook.
“They have about seven years combined experience working for me, so it makes my job a little easier, and we’ve got a lot of good cashiers, good cooks,” he said.
Haddon also does catering and hopes this part of the business will pick up. Besides a smoker in the restaurant, he has a portable smoker, and he did extensive catering work while at Uncle Shug’s.