Photo by Heather Middleton
By Valerie Baldowski
Melissa Chute took a seat at one of the larger tables in Grampa's Catfish House, flanked by her mother and father, her brother, her two children, and her husband.
Chute visited the restaurant at 1894 Keys Ferry Road in the Ola community Friday, to celebrate her mother's 83rd birthday.
Restaurant employee, Anna Kent, quickly moved in to take drink and dinner orders.
Catfish, of course, is the star of the show, but diners can also choose french fries, fried pickles, fried okra, fried squash, fried green tomatoes and hush puppies.
A first-time customer, Chute said she and her family don't usually drive through Ola, but this time they had a mission. "We were specifically looking for catfish, and didn't want to have to drive too far."
She said she was surprised to find a restaurant in such a remote location. "But everything's growing out here so much, I'm kind of not surprised, with a new school out here," she said. "We saw the sign, and came out here and found out that we knew the owners," she said.
The restaurant opened in February, said Tony Harris, who owns it with his wife, Jerrie.
Harris said he decided to open a restaurant in the rural location, because the area has so few dining choices. "There is nothing," he said. "I live out this way. Other than driving all the way back to town, there is absolutely nothing. Until you get back towards Jackson, there's just not much out this way," he said.
The restaurant's decor includes checkered tablecloths on the 15 tables, window dressings with a seaside theme, and nautical decorations, such as fishing poles, seashells displayed in a glass case, and a fishing net on the wall.
On one wall is painted the Bible verse Matthew 4:19: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Near the rear of the 60-seat dining room is a sign advertising "Uncle Jimmie's Bake Shop," which sells baked goods out of the restaurant. The bake shop was named after a late family member, who died before the restaurant opened, said Harris.
Harris, who lives two miles from Grampa's Catfish House, said he chose to open the eatery after being persuaded by friends. "They talked me into doing this because they love catfish, and there's absolutely nothing out this direction," he said. "I wanted to do something local. There are too many barbecue places around, anyway. I wanted something unique and a little different out here."
Harris' advertising comes by word of mouth, and has drawn customers from a wide area. "I've got Jackson Lake people coming," he said. "I've had them all the way from Peachtree City, Newnan, Bibb County down at Macon, Paulding County, Cobb County, Douglas County, Fulton , DeKalb, Rockdale, and I think I had somebody from Gwinnett."
Harris said he is not interested in capturing a large market share of customers, but instead wants to make his restaurant family-friendly for hungry customers in his community.
Don Williams, of Locust Grove, was another new customer who showed up for dinner Friday. He was just driving by. "I saw the sign, and today is Friday, so I said 'Friday and fish go together,'" Williams said. "I just came here to see what it was about."
Williams said what he looks for in a restaurant is cleanliness, a friendly staff, and good food. "I watch the food network [on TV] all the time," he said. "They always show all the different restaurants and the different styles of food. I just like to go around when I get the opportunity [and try them.]"
Grampa's Catfish House is open Wednesdays through Fridays, from 4 p.m., to 9 p.m., Saturdays, from 11 a.m., to 9 p.m., and Sundays, from 11:30 a.m., to 3 p.m.