Ethelyn and Randy Hayslett had high hopes Monday for JackSon’s Southern Kitchen at Richland Mall.
The couple were regulars at 3400 Forest Drive when S&S Cafeteria operated a cafeteria at the site for 30 years. But they had not been back much since the cafeteria closed three years ago, despite its subsequent reopening as Sadie’s American Cafeteria and several changes in ownership.
That changed, however, when a new buffet-style eatery opened Monday at lunchtime on Richland Mall’s lower level, near its food court.
The Haysletts were so optimistic about the new restaurant, in fact, that they drove 14 miles to Lexington’s Vegetable Medley restaurant Saturday to “say goodbye,” Randy Hayslett said. He said he was confident that JackSon’s – just a mile from the couple’s house – would succeed, in part because it will use the same family recipes as the Lexington restaurant.
JackSon’s will be operated by Sarah Whittle-Chavis, daughter-in-law of the owners of Vegetable Medley. Whittle-Chavis got her start in restaurants as an 11th-grader, when she went to work at the Lexington eatery as a dishwasher, meeting her future husband while on the job.
But, with a new baby, 7-month-old Jackson, Whittle-Chavis, 22, said she was ready to build something for her family.
Her experiences at Vegetable Medley taught her the business, she said. “But this is mine.”
Whittle-Chavis, who lives in North in Orangeburg County, said JackSon’s – which also will provide catering services – will be different in many ways from the cafeterias that came before it at the Richland Mall site. First, it will serve lunch and supper buffet style, rather than cafeteria style. And, second, it will use old family recipes prepared by seasoned cooks, she said.
Dishes on the rotation include fried chicken, tomatoes and okra, collards, fried cornbread fritters, homemade peach cobblers and a salad bar stocked with cold vegetables.
Still, Whittle-Chavis said she is trying to capture the spirit of the old, beloved S&S and fill a void in the community for country cooking.
“We’re hoping to bring that atmosphere back and plus some,” she said Monday, seated in her restaurant at a table draped with a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth.
Joining her briefly at the table before hopping back up to get to work was “Ms. Helen,” a longtime favorite at the restaurant in all of its incarnations. Helen Gartman, a spry 67, worked at S&S for 30 years and has come back to work for every subsequent owner at the location.
Gartman had been looking for work since July until JackSon’s recruited her. “I’m happy to be back,” she said. “I want to see all my regulars.”
The restaurant will hold its grand opening Friday and Saturday, offering senior citizen and children’s discounts, and donating 10 percent of sales to the Oliver Gospel Mission. Normal adult buffet prices will range from $8.49 to $12.49, depending on the day and meal.
Longtime S&S customer, Dan Whitehouse, was optimistic about the new Richland Mall restaurant Monday.
After eating there for three decades, Whitehouse skipped church three years ago to get a last meal on S&S’s closing day. And Whitehouse was among the first in line Monday at JackSon’s, saying he was looking forward to the return of fresh vegetables.
“There’s nothing like this in the Forest Acres area,” Whitehouse said. “It’s something that this restaurant will fill a niche for.”