It is an unfortunate truth that some of the best food in any town can be found at the great unknowns, the mom and pops that spring up in quiet corners of communities.
One such place in North Augusta is Madjon’s Bakery and Cafe in the back of the Riverfront Antiques Mall on Jefferson Davis Highway.
But owner Eileen Hutson won’t wait long for notoriety if her biggest fan, Lois Marable, has anything to do about it.
“Put in there that we think she is just great,” Marable commands, her slight frame and genteel manner belying a mind of steel. Hutson laughs: “She’s my best customer.”
The two sit side-by-side at a comfortable table with a lace overlay as Marable enjoys a bowl of Hutson’s potato soup.
“Look at that!” Marable exclaims, as she leans into view a bowl brimming with corn, onions, cheese and, of course, generous chunks of potato. “It’s got everything in it!”
If only every restaurant had cheerleaders like her.
In fact, Madjon’s Bakery and Cafe is an offshoot of Hutson’s original food industry idea, which was to bottle and market her proprietary recipes for sauces. She makes a not-too-mean salsa, cake syrups that help add flavor and moisture to baking and something called “pasta gravy.”
“Pasta gravy is what my Italian friends always called it, not spaghetti sauce. They said I made the best,” Hutson said, shrugging. So while it might sound odd, the ingredient list reveals a series of recognizable components like red wine.
But the cake syrup was really her first creation. When she was a girl, and the family ran out of syrup, she would make her own on the stove. As an adult, when trying to create a recipe that called for an unusual ingredient that she found had an offensive taste, she devised a similar flavoring ingredient and the idea was born.
But it’s not so easy to get a food brand to market, as Hutson found out.
“You can’t just go into your kitchen and say, ‘I want to sell it,’” she laughed.
Instead, there is a long and meticulous process of government approval and more red tape before her sauces can hit the supermarket shelves.
There are trademark applications,licensing by the Department of Agriculture, label and packaging approvals and specialized equipment purchases like a required thermometer that set her operation back $1,400. But to sell more than from her little counter, she’ll need a bar code, known as GS1 identification keys. They are only assigned by GS1, a nonprofit group that sets standards for global commerce. But in just four months, she’s already sold hundreds of jars of the products from her cafe.
Her cafe is just a stop along the way to global grocery domination, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t putting her all into it.
“A group came in and had dinner. One of the gentlemen bought a piece of her carrot cake and he went out of here with a whole cake,” Marable laughed.
Hutson nodded: “They’ve been known to fight over it.”
Of course, there’s more to the menu than sweets and potato chowder. Her hamburgers are hand-patted and her chicken salad isn’t so much a recipe as it is a “formula,” she said. Her daily specials range from yesterday’s stuffed shells (with her pasta gravy, of course) to tomorrow’s stuffed cabbage roll. Today, she’s serving hot Italian sandwiches, made with tender beef, green peppers,onions and sauce, served on a baguette. On Sunday she does something like fried chicken or pork chops and gravy. She might whip up some barbecue pork ribs or “whatever I feel like cooking. I do a mixture of North and South,” she said.
“But don’t forget the Southern part,” Marable chuckled.
“But I also do the Italian,and that’s not Southern,”Hutson grinned.
The best day to come is Thursday, a slow day when she can sit and chat with her guests.
Weekends are her busiest times, when shoppers come to browse the antiques, collectibles and novelties stuffed into every nook and cranny of the surprising cozy but cavernous mall space. In fact, Marable offers tours of the vast collections to groups of 10 or more, a service many collectors and hoarders can appreciate.
As more companies pick Madjon’s Bakery and Cafe for board meetings and dinners, as they have been lately, her products will get more exposure. And then perhaps she’ll move out of the cafe and into a board meeting herself.
Madjon’s Bakery and Cafe
Inside Riverfront Antiques Mall
5979 Jefferson Davis Hwy.