Jeffrey Hall, owner-operator of Fort Valley’s The Railroad Cafe talks about winning the 2018 Peach Regional Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award and life at the cafe.
Q: What does it mean to you to have won?
A: Knowing there were very deserving nominations up for it and to even be considered, well it made us very proud. Really proud. Not just of what we’ve accomplished but be part of this community and serve our customers. We’re thankful and very humbled. A community the size of Fort Valley needs small business to help it stay stable and grow and we want to be part of that. We’re proud of the hard work we put in to provide tasty, quality products and service. It’s nice it hasn’t gone without notice. It makes you feel you’re doing what you set out to do.
Q: How do you win the small business award?
A: We’re Peach Regional Chamber of Commerce members but didn’t really know there was a contest coming up. I was told we actually won on write-in votes.
Q: You got a couple of other recent awards, right?
A: A Business Partner of the Month Award and an award from Peach County High School for being a generous community partner and supporter. Plus, we won 2018 Taste of Southern Best Savory.
Q: Is your cafe in the actual train depot? That would give lots of atmosphere.
A: It is. It’s in the old depot and we have train decor, historic pictures, railroad-type food names and active trains on tracks 20 feet away. We hear and feel the rumble. It’s nostalgic and people love it. But a lot of feedback we get is about liking our food, of course, but people also say they love the atmosphere and music. We used to switch styles daily but then just left it on Christian music, which we like. We’re plugged into a local church, that’s who we are, and we get feedback from people who say they like our music, too.
Q: How do you describe the Rail Road Cafe?
A: As far as a certain food place, I don’t know. It’s a cafe so it can have a variety, right? But first, I’d say we put care in creating our menu — we have a very large menu — and then in preparing food daily from top quality ingredients. I don’t consider myself a big-headed chef type but I love food, I love preparing it well, and I don’t back down from a challenge. We’re a very laid back, family-friendly place. We don’t sell alcohol. We’re friendly though we do get busy.
Q: What do you want people feeling or thinking when they leave?
A: That they enjoyed their meal, got value for their money, knew it was quality food — I’m a stickler for quality — and I guess that they’ll be back and they’ll tell their friends. When someone leaves and tells me we’ve done a good job, I don’t know, it’s a feeling like the heavens have opened and that’s the Lord shining on me.
Q: Can you talk about a few of your food items? There are some inventive names.
A: When I was building the menu, I had some things in already in my head and I tried to use a railroad vocabulary. Like I said, we have a big menu but a few things are:
▪ The Locomotive, which is like the engine on a train so I wanted it to be big — a half pound, 8 ounce, of Angus burger, and I tell you, none of our burgers are fast food burgers.
▪ The Twin Engine is a whole pound of meat — two Locomotives stacked.
▪ Our Double Jack is from our breakfast menu and is two pancakes.
▪ A Spike is our hotdog, which can be simple or we can do a lot with.
▪ A Train Wreck is two of our scrambled dogs and it’s over two pounds of food. The scrambled dog is our Boxcar, which is a hotdog covered with chili, cheese, onions, slaw and jalapenos. We have all kids of quesadillas, wraps, barbecue, salads, specialty items and we have Cajun shrimp and grits that people love. There are a lot of combos and specialties. We have a Train Robber that’s a great barbecue-based sandwich.
Q: What’s your overall specialty?
A: On our menu, we say we’re the home of the Train Wreck, the largest scrambled dog in the world, but as far as sales right now I’d have to say the Cajun shrimp and grits are really flying out of here.
Q: How long have you been in the food business? And where is the Railroad Cafe?
A: From 16 to 47 years old, so just over 30 years and I’ve been in everything from fast food to fine dining. I’ve been involved in a number of restaurants across Middle Georgia, including The Peppercorn that some may fondly remember here in Fort Valley. The Railroad Cafe is at 117 Lowe St. and our website is www.rrcafe.biz.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.