At Maxie’s Soul Food, owner Doris Tenner says some patrons tell her the food tastes just like their grandmother’s cooking.
Tenner doesn’t mind because old-fashioned homemade cooking is the business’ signature.
Tenner, a former nursing assistant and medical clerk, established the soul food restaurant on Fort Benning Road in 1995. Today, her husband, daughters and grandchildren help her operate the business.
The Zwolle, La., native sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about how she has kept Maxie’s Soul Food alive for 14 years, what dishes her patrons love and where she sees the business in the next several years. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about the business.
We established the business in December of 1995. I resigned from civil service in 1995 and my dreams were to open up a flea market.
I would go to the flea market every weekend and ask God to give me some land so I could build a flea market.
Four months after I said that prayer, God put me in the restaurant business. ... It was all God’s doing.
What does your restaurant serve?
I wanted to bring back the old-fashioned cooking. A lot of the young people don’t know about soul food, the good old country cooking. Once God put me into the business, that’s what we wanted to bring back.
It’s more nourishing than fast food.
We started off with the family, my four daughters and myself.
Now we have the grandchildren helping me out. Everything is homemade, made from scratch.
We basically cook anything you could call soul food, like collard greens, macaroni and cheese, neck bones, pig feet, oxtails, pork chops, chicken, stew, rice and gravy, lima beans, field peas, cornbread dressing, yams, catfish fillet...
A number of businesses have closed because of the economic downturn. How do you think you’ve been able to stay in business for 14 years — especially as a restaurant?
What God has his hands on, can’t nobody touch it. He is my supplier. I don’t depend on anybody else but the Lord. ...
And when somebody is opening a business, if I know them, I offer to help them with anything. Help them with their business, give them any information they could use to make their business successful.
You’re located pretty close to Fort Benning. Does that help you out?
It does, but we have a variety of (customers), not just soldiers. Civilians, people (from) up north. We have people who have been fighting (in the war) or at Fort Polk, La., and all they can talk about is Maxie’s Soul Food. They’ll come back and tell other people. People have learned about us on airplanes, traveling. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising. We got people coming from Florida, Atlanta. ... Word-of-mouth is the best because once they taste, they can really tell. I’ve heard people say, “This is like my grandmother’s cooking” or “This is like my mother’s cooking.”
What are some popular dishes you’d recommend?
Oxtails, pork chops. We get our pork chops specially cut — they are real large. All the food is wonderful.
The neck bones and cornish hens are very good. We do a different menu every day.
So besides soul food, what is your favorite food?
Ice cream. That’s my favorite. I like the Nestle Drumsticks.
Where do you see the business in five to 10 years?
I want it to be so successful. I want it to be one of the greatest soul food (restaurants) in the world. I want it to be a legacy. I don’t never want to close it down because we have brought a lot of young people in.
They have eaten food they never thought they would eat. But when they come here and they eat it, that’s what they want.
We started out with hamburgers, french fries and chicken wings. But once they found out I could cook, they didn’t want it anymore.
They wanted the soul food. ... I am planning on adding some more Creole dishes to the menu, too. I do dirty rice now, but I want to add shrimp etouffee and stuffed bell peppers.