But inside the two small dining rooms, neighborly people chat with each other as they fill their plates from the buffet. Augusta Commissioner Betty Beard finishes her meal and thanks co-owner Tammy Darko by name.
“Nice to see you again,” she calls after the local politician as she leaves.
Beard and her colleague, Calvin Holland, are frequent visitors here. So are doctors, judges, lawyers and anyone else who could spend their considerable paychecks elsewhere. They all come here for the food and atmosphere.
“I think it’s the ambiance and the friendliness. It’s very personal,” Tammy said. “We know them by their names. It’s so small and quaint that we can do that.”
The two dining rooms combined seat only about 35 people. But since meals are largely a buffet affair here — although you’re welcome to order from the menu, too — the turnover is quick. No one waits long for a table.
The restaurant is a dream that Tammy’s husband, George, had when he was a young man in Ghana. The food-service industry is what brought him to America. He went from Africa to Europe, and eventually gained American citizenship. When he moved to Augusta, he worked soul-crushing hours as simultaneous head chef at the Doctors Hospital cafeteria during the day and head chef at Calvert’s at night.
He also worked as the personal chef for Joseph Still, after whom the burn center at Doctors Hospital is named. The triad of unique situations taught him a unique blend of flexibility, fast service and fine food, ensuring that everything on the buffet is high quality but never runs out.
“You know, he wouldn’t have had the opportunities in Ghana that he does here,” Tammy explained, as her hard-working spouse rapidly refilled his selections.
The menu is limited, since only about two percent of their customers order from it, and everything on it is cooked to order. That means that the London Broil is cut and cooked — and the Nolan’s Southern Fried Chicken is hand-breaded and fried — the second the order goes in. The Ghana Chicken, George’s special recipe for grilled spicy chicken over pasta with his signature sauce, starts with a pot of water to boil the pasta. Ordering from the menu might take a while, but, to their loyal customers, it’s worth the wait.
“A lot of people come in for dietary needs and veggie plates. We’re really getting out there as a healthy restaurant,” Tammy explained. That’s because they use no salt, only salt substitute. George marinates all his meats and mixes his own seasonings. You’ll never find pork fat or oil floating around in their vegetables.
On their buffet, they offer a poultry, a meat and a fish selection every day — it’s “Chef’s Choice” here, but you can count on salmon on Thursdays. They also serve two veggies and a starch, hot rolls and cornbread, and a dessert that is usually apple or peach cobbler.
“We’ve tried it all, and that’s what works,” Tammy laughed.
She knows what works. She spent nearly a decade with the Metro-Augusta Chamber of Commerce as an events coordinator. She helped promote local business interests while solidifying her knowledge of marketing and networking. She spends much of her time as the face of the restaurant, filling glasses, chatting with customers and working the register. She does little cooking.
“He’s very territorial about his kitchen,” she laughed, as George playfully shook a spatula in her direction.
George himself cooks every order that comes in, which allows for consistency and accountability; and the Darkos like being able to control the quality of their food. If something goes wrong, they point the finger only at themselves.
They work this hard to ensure that George’s dream is fulfilled and that they enjoy the independence that comes with owning their own business. But mostly, they bust their tails every day so that their 4-year-old son, Saxel, will be able to enjoy every opportunity that they can give him.
“We love what we do and we don’t look at it like work. We’re preparing for Saxel’s future,” Tammy said.
Their only child is a quiet fixture at the restaurant, with one of the dining rooms named after him. The Darkos are building their restaurant and catering business to ensure that their beloved little boy can get what he wants out of life. They home school the polite child, another benefit they enjoy from owning their own business.
“Everything we do anymore — the restaurant, everything — is not for us anymore. It’s about Saxel, if he wants it. It’s about being able to give him that choice,” Tammy said, as she watched him walk quietly past the dining room door.
He has a few years before he has to make any decisions. But the Darkos take no chances.