STOCKBRIDGE — Phil Hogan built a restaurant where customers felt like they were at home, and a place where everybody knows your name.
“He was always at the restaurant,” his daughter, Christi Hutchinson, said. “People would always come in looking for him. A lot of people depended on him.”
Hogan established his lifelong passion of owning his own family restaurant in the early 80’s — Phil’s Southern Cooking, a small, quaint place which sits on the corner of North Henry Boulevard and Tye Street in Stockbridge.
Phil had a daily routine. He would start cooking about 8 a.m. and open the doors about noon. And customers would come flooding in to get a whiff of some good ol’ Southern fare.
Until one Sunday morning when he did not show up.
“The house was very quiet,” Christi said. As she made her way to the basement, where her father slept, she saw him slumped over, still wearing his clothes from the night before. He had on a T-shirt, a pair of jeans, one shoe on and the other off. His eyes were wide open. Christi yelled, “No!”
“You could tell he was dead.”
Hogan died from a brain aneurysm, the day after his Nov. 2 birthday. He was 64 years old.
“It’s been hard not having him here, but each day gets a little better,” Christi said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. It was divine intervention.”
She said her father had already began to show her the ropes of the business and she had plans to take over. Just two weeks before he passed, he asked Christi to get the ServSafe license.
It’s a priority for Christi and husband David to keep her father’s legacy alive in the community.
“He put a lot into this place and I just couldn’t see it shutting down,” she said.
William Walden likes to dine there with the love of his life, Evelyn, his wife of 56 years.
“It’s just some good home-style cooking,” said William, a frail, gray-haired man.
The Waldens enjoy lunch with each other at the restaurant at least three times a week. They sit at their usual table, in the front by the windows, with the red and white checkered tablecloth, and stuff their bellies with turnip greens, cream of corn, fried chicken, corn muffins, and peach cobbler, which happens to be Evelyn’s favorite. However, Phil’s is known best for its golden deep-fried chicken, hush puppies, and fried green tomatoes.
The Waldens have fond memories of Phil. Evelyn said her fondest is watching Phil fix himself a plate at the buffet and stand at the front of the restaurant and eat. “He would always do that,” she said.
William said it was Phil’s friendly banter with customers that he remembers most. “He was just a really nice man,” he said.
Other loyal customers, such as Phil and Lillian Hawkins, like to describe the family diner like “a home away from home.”
“It’s got that country feel, where everybody likes to come together,” Lillian said.
The married couple of 55 years has dined at the restaurant since it opened.
Another loyal customer, Tina Smith, also enjoys the camaraderie, the fried fish and chicken.
“The food is always good and the employees are always friendly. I just really enjoy coming here,” Tina said.
David said many customers like to come in to watch television, talk about sports, and have loose, candid conversation.
“I know just about everybody who comes in here,” David said. “People will come in and literally stay for hours.”
Though Phil is gone, Christi said she can still feel his spirit around her all the time.
“I miss him,” she said, as tears began to well in her eyes. The daddy’s girl has her moments when she wants to break down, but she pulls it together.
“He touched so many people lives,” she said. Christi said her father, a devout Christian, would often feed people who were homeless or who had no money to eat.
“That’s the kind of man he was,” she said. To remember him, she wears a necklace around her neck that reads, “May the work I have done speak for me.”