NEW MARKET — The staple of home cooking up and down the valley left its founder’s family last month but none of the heart has been lost.
Jimmy Shifflett, the owner of Southern Kitchen, 9576 S. Congress St., said owning a restaurant has always been his dream. He never imagined it would be one that he frequented as he grew up.
When he heard Southern Kitchen was for sale, Shifflett said he went straight to the source. He walked through the doors into the dining room and asked one of the servers whether it was still for sale, he said. When they told him it was, his mind was set.
Restaurants and food have shaped Shifflett. His first job, he said, was cutting vegetables at home. His first paid job was in fast food.
“I’ve been in the industry my entire life,” Shifflett said. “This is the only thing I’ve done.”
“As soon as I was able to work, I immediately got into the industry,” he continued. “At the time, it was fast food. It was the best thing I could find and get to.”
With some experience under his belt, Shifflett transitioned to full restaurants. Before long, he and a friend started Leona’s Place in Broadway. He was in charge of operations, he said, while his friend was focused on running the business.
Shifflett said he soon transitioned to help his mom open her restaurant.
All of that was before the recession. With the economy scuffling, Shifflett said he went back to fast food — the only people that could pay him, he said.
For years, Shifflett said, he ran a successful chain of Wendy’s but was always saving for his chance to return to restaurants.
Now he’s back to running and operating a family business — one that has a long history in the community.
Southern Kitchen has a long legacy in the community at large as well as the men and women who come in to sit at the counters every day. That reputation, Shifflett said, isn’t something that he wants to put his own stamp on. His fidelity to age-old recipes will do more to serve customers than trying to make sweeping changes, he said.
“This place has been established for 60 years. This is not a big city area. That it’s that sustainable for that long is what makes it attractive, too,” Shifflett said. “I don’t need to come in and make a bunch of changes to support myself or fix anything.”
If something isn’t broken, Shifflett said, he doesn’t want to try to tinker with it. The longevity of Southern Kitchen has everything to do with consistency, he said. From recipes to employees, the proof is in the durability of the product.
The average time an employee works for Southern Kitchen, Shifflett said, is 6 1/2 years. When he was managing Wendy’s chains, the average time an employee spent with the company was eight months.
“Southern Kitchen is the employees,” he said.
Between having employees who are familiar with the business, recipes to follow in the kitchen — Shifflett said he’s a good cook but he’s especially good at following recipes — and a family who is in the business with him, the transition has been smooth.
“This place is a total fit for me and my family,” Shifflett said. “The things that I did. The way that I cook. The way that I want to cook … the food I grew up with as a kid. It’s not Applebees or some cookie-cutter franchise. It’s a really unique place.”