Published Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Newnan Coweta-Magazine: Hard-to-find, but worth it ... Mother's Kitchen

By ALEX MCRAE

Newnan-Coweta Magazine

One of Newnan’s most popular dining establishments isn’t just off the beaten path … it’s totally off the map.

The U.S. Postal Service claims that Mother’s Kitchen is located at 33 1/2 E. Broad Street, but the best way to find it is to follow the line of hungry customers making their way down an unmarked alley to a set of screen doors that open to a noisy, no-frills, no-frowns-allowed restaurant offering comfort food in a setting as comfortable as home.

And don’t expect to sneak in unnoticed. Lucille Grady Reynolds, the owner of Mother’s Kitchen, won’t hear of it. 

“When a person walks in, if you acknowledge them and let them know they are welcome, they’ll be back,” Lucille says. “That’s what we do.”

Byrdie Geter has enjoyed Lucille’s hospitality for almost a decade. “She tells you ‘hello’ when you come in and ‘goodbye’ and ‘I love you’ when you leave,” Geter says. “She’s not just there to make a living.”

Lucille serves the kind of down-home delights that Southerners were raised on and Northern transplants embrace by the mouth-watering mouthful. Diners often have to flip a coin to decide among the fresh vegetable choices. Desserts are plentiful and scrumptious and meats ranging from salmon to pork pop up regularly. 

The hands-down favorite dish, though, is chicken, baked to please your cardiologist or fried gloriously golden and starched-shirt crisp.

Lucille says she learned how to cook from the best chef she ever met: Ethel Mae Patrick … her mother. As the oldest of 15 children growing up on a farm near Moreland, Lucille’s kitchen career started early.

“I was eight years old when I began cooking,” she says. “I didn’t mind. That’s what you had to do.”

Lucille admits her first dish didn’t leave anyone begging for more.

“I cooked up some collards,” she says. “But I didn’t know to take the stems off or wash ’em right. Mama showed me how to fix that, and everything else.”

Lucille never planned to cook professionally. After she finished her education, she took a variety of full-time jobs to keep the bills paid while she raised four children. But she always earned extra income cooking for families, churches, parties and weddings.

In late 1999, while working at Newnan Hospital, she made a life-changing decision.

“I was talking to this lady talking about cooking and I got to thinking I think I could cook fair, and I decided to just try it.” She said a prayer and got to work and opened for business in 2000 in a spot at the back end of a building that had earlier housed both a small church and another restaurant.

“After about four years I was doing all right so I decided to stay,” she says. Six years later, someone talked Lucille into installing a sign, but you won’t see it unless you enter from the parking lot off Perry Street.

“My business is pretty much word-of-mouth,” Lucille says.

The crowd that packs Mother’s Kitchen every day includes blue collar workers, executives, farmers, firefighters, doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers, bankers and students. And Lucille’s customers don’t just love the cooking. They love the cook.

Attorney Robert Stokely has been a regular for years. 

“She’s a great person,” Stokely says. “I call her Mother and I always enjoy the company as much as the food when I’m here. The place is really a town treasure.”

“Town treasure” has a nice ring to it but there is one term Lucille does not want associated with her business.

“Please don’t call what I cook soul food,” she says. “I serve country cooking. Soul Food is the word of God.” 

Lucille, her children and her husband, Danny Ray Reynolds, begin each day by praying together and then selecting a Bible verse to be hand-written at the bottom of the day’s menu, which is scrawled in a spiral notebook placed where orders are taken.

“That scripture, that’s your daily bread,” Lucille says. “It’s all you really need.”

Lucille is into her second generation of customers and doesn’t plan to change a thing in a place where total strangers feel comfortable sharing a meal and big-time business deals go down over dessert.

“I just leave people alone and let them enjoy themselves,” Lucille says. “It’s working out.”

Eating at Mother’s Kitchen may be an addiction, but it’s a habit no one wants to break. As Byrdie Geter says, “Once you go, you’re gonna come back.” 

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