HOLLY SPRINGS • In 2010, Linda and Tom Stewart opened a catering business in their home in Holly Springs. They would come up with a daily menu offering a meat and a couple of sides, take orders and deliver the meals the next day.

“The first week or so we had two or three businesses, then four or five businesses,” Tom said. “About six weeks in, my wife said, ‘We’ve got to hire some people to help.’ And it just grew from there.”

Six years ago, when the old Coopwood’s Dry Goods building came open on the Square in downtown Holly Springs, the Stewarts bought it and opened Southern Eatery, a full-service restaurant.

“We were open three meals a day, seven days a week,” Tom said. “But breakfast never took off – people were too busy to come in and sit down. They’d grab a biscuit at the hot spot, the gas station. Lunch was always steady. And supper was interesting. We had a good menu and good food, but it was hit or miss for no rhyme or reason.”

So three years ago, the Stewarts sat down and figured out the most popular items on the menu and put them on a lunch buffet that’s served daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We’re doing more business now than we were when we were doing three meals a day,” Tom said. “This works for us. But I don’t know if this restaurant would do well in any other city or in any other building but right here in Holly Springs.”

Every day the restaurant offers both baked and fried chicken because, as Tom said, he doesn’t know which day not to offer baked and fried chicken. And each day there are two additional entrees – one on a regular rotation and the other a special.

On Mondays, you’ll always find meatloaf; Tuesdays is fried or grilled pork chops; on Wednesdays it’s fried catfish; and Thursday features hamburger steak with onions and gravy. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays it’s the cook’s choice.

The special entree offered each day might be white cheese chicken pasta, spaghetti, tomato pie, poppyseed chicken, beef stroganoff, bacon-wrapped tenderloin, shrimp and grits, chicken spaghetti or lasagna.

“If Grandmaw cooked it, we cook it,” Tom said. “There’s nothing out of a bag, no reheating. We use recipes, not formulas. I’m not saying we don’t open a can when we have to, but we always add something to it.”

Everyday there are also eight or nine side items on the buffet, with everything from corn, Southern-style green beans, mac and cheese, deviled eggs, and Brussels sprouts with bacon to purple-hull peas, fried okra, sweet and spicy carrots, glazed sweet potatoes, and grilled summer vegetables.

“Most of the recipes we tweak – more sauce or more spices,” Linda said. “Any recipe we get we make it right by the directions the first time. After that, we make our own adjustments.”

Tom said the first meal Linda ever cooked for him – on their first date – was meatloaf, green beans, mashed potatoes and biscuits.

“We still serve that meal in this restaurant,” he said. “We try to treat everybody like family here. It’s a family business. When I say, ‘Make yourself at home,’ I mean, ‘Make yourself at home.’ It’s not just a catch-phrase.”

The all-you-can-eat buffet, which includes a salad bar and dessert, is $9.95. The salad bar only is $7.95. Drinks are $1.75.

“We always have a hot and a cold dessert on the bar,” Tom said. “One day we might have blackberry-pear cobbler and banana pudding. Another day might be strawberry cobbler and Key lime pie.”

The restaurant seats between 80 and 85 and is open for private events in the evening.

“On a typical day, we feed 75 to 125 people,” Tom said. “On a busy day, it’s 125 to 200 people. On a crazy day, it’s 75 to 100 here at lunch, a catering job for 50 and then a men’s group.”

Linda said going from a full menu to a buffet was a scary move.

“But we knew what people liked,” she said. “That’s why we offer the meatloaf, pork chops, catfish and hamburger steak every week. They also like our Brussels sprouts and bacon, sweet and spicy carrots, glazed sweet potatoes and Southern-style green beans. And our cornbread is huge.”

Southern Eatery also offers four sandwiches on a limited menu: a burger, a prime rib sandwich, a chicken tender sandwich; and a fried tender basket. Next month, they’re bringing back the CBR – a grilled chicken wrap with homemade ranch dressing, Cheddar cheese and bacon.

“We’re bringing it back by popular demand and some angry letters,” Tom said. “We’ll add that back when school starts.”

The couple is also trying their hand at frozen casseroles to go. They’ll have three sizes available for pickup in a freezer at the front of the restaurant.

Offerings will include poppyseed chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken pasta, lasagna pasta bake, white cheese chicken lasagna, Ro-tel chicken spaghetti, king ranch chicken, chicken enchiladas, loaded mashed potato casserole and broccoli, rice and cheese casserole.

“We’re like a hidden gem,” Tom said. “People come here and discover us and then they want to bring a friend here to see what they’ve discovered. There’s something about introducing people to something that you’ve found that’s fun. People from everywhere come here to eat and we’re thankful for it.”

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