For Ronnie Hamblin, cooking is all about family. His currently has around 300 members. They show up on Sunday, and he feeds them all.
When Hamblin opened his Peppertown restaurant, Dynasty 78, roughly six years ago, he didn’t really know where it would go. Still doesn’t, to be honest. But he had an idea: He wanted to host a Sunday dinner – the kind that brings families together to enjoy food and fellowship – on a grand scale.
“Like everybody else, I love to eat. And I love to go and eat good food,” he said. “We just try to cook a good country meal every Sunday.”
Dynasty 78 is housed inside a nondescript metal building owned by Hamblin’s father-in-law. Several eateries have called the building home over the years. Most have closed their doors after a short time.
“Nobody could keep it going,” Hamblin said from a table inside the dining room. It was a Thursday, and the space was quiet, its plain cafeteria-style tables and mix of metal folding and vinyl-covered chairs empty. Come Sunday, the place would be alive with people, packed from one end of the building to the other with smartly-dressed church-goers, hungry people who’ve spent their mornings on a pew. Or behind the pulpit.
“We get a bunch of pastors in here,” Hamblin said. “Maybe we should just start having service up here.”
It was the church crowd that got Hamblin into the restaurant business, and kitchen, in the first place. He said people with whom he attended Sunday services began to ask if he’d consider opening the place up to give them a place to go on Sunday afternoons. Hamblin decided to give it a try.
His plan was, perhaps unexpectedly, met with some skepticism by his father-in-law, who said Hamblin would never be able to keep the doors open serving food a single day each week. But Hamblin was persistent, and ambitious, and decided to give it a try. He got the place spruced up, decided he’d serve the kind of food people are meant to eat after church, hired a couple of cooks, then spread the word by handing out fliers.
They served 90 people that first day. Barring just two days, they’ve been open every Sunday since for the past six years.
The menu of Hamblin’s restaurant includes a growing number of what its owner referred to as old fashioned southern dishes … the kind whipped up in grandma’s kitchen. Chicken and dumplings. Made-from-scratch dressing. Baked ham. Chicken livers. Five varieties of cobbler. The kind of stuff Hamblin grew up loving.
“I want people to come in here and think they’re eating at their grandmother’s table,” he said.
Hamblin himself spends most of his Sundays inside the restaurant’s kitchen. Just about any meat that comes through the kitchen doors bound for the restaurant’s growing buffet was cooked by Hamblin. He’s also in charge of desserts. On a typical Sunday, he’ll prep 20 aluminum pans of cobbler.
Cooking starts at around 4:30 on Sunday morning. The fryers heat up at 10 a.m. By 11, the doors are open and the crowd starts rolling in. By a few minutes after noon, the place is getting packed, and Hamblin and his small staff are scrambling from place to place, ensuring the buffet and drinks remained filled. By 3 p.m. – just four hours after opening – the doors close until the next Sunday.
When he opened his restaurant, Hamblin was mostly inside the dining room, but it didn’t take long for that to change.
“The bigger we grew, the more food we needed to cook,” he said. Makes sense. But Hamblin wasn’t necessarily making the kind of money that could afford an extra cook. So, he got behind the stove himself.
“I just sort of jumped in there with them to help,” he said.
Hamblin can be somewhat experimental in the kitchen. He’s not afraid to switch out a popular dish with something new, just to see how it goes over. If it doesn’t, he’ll just swap it back. If it does, there’s a good chance it’ll be added to his growing selection of items on his hot bar.
There’s currently 30 dishes on the buffet. By the time this story publishes, it could very well be 31.
“I love to try new recipes,” Hamblin said. “I guess you don’t ever like to get complacent.”
Hamblin’s a talker too, the kind of guy who can slip into a long conversation as naturally as breathing. He uses that to gauge what his patrons like and don’t like. It’s what helped his restaurant thrive when, statistically, it probably shouldn’t have.
“It’s not about making money,” he said. If it were, he would have closed the doors years ago. The margins are too thin, the work too hard.
It’s about friendships, he said. Meeting people. Is there a better pairing than food and fellowship? Not in Hamblin’s mind.
“I’ll continue to do this as long as people want to come eat with us,” Hamblin said.
Could be a while, then.