The name Fat Man’s Mill Café has, for the past 60 years, become synonymous with hearty, stick-to-your-ribs Southern cooking. It’s ironic, then, that its current owners, Brad and Havird Usry, don’t indulge in this kind of eating on a day-to-day basis.
“I’ve obviously been involved with Fat Man’s for my entire life so, yes, I’ll enjoy a piece of fried chicken and some mac and cheese every now and then, but that would be my Friday meal,” Havird Usry said, laughing. “Monday through Thursday, though, I eat very little animal proteins and eat a lot of plant-based meals.”
Renovations haven’t begun in earnest and they’re keeping the name under wraps, but Havird did explain that the concept is unlike anything downtown Augusta has yet to see.
“There are some similar concepts, but I think our spin’s pretty unique,” he explained. “We will have some sandwiches and wraps and a few things that, if people want to eat a really hearty meal, they can. We’re going to do some different types of smoothies and juices that will be pretty cool.”
Havird’s favorite aspect of the new restaurant, however, is how it will support other local businesses while they are supporting the restaurant.
“I’ve been involved with Augusta Locally Grown and East Georgia Produce, who’s just south of Waynesboro, and literally every ingredient we’re getting for this place is right here,” he said. “You can drive within the day and pick everything up. The furthest thing would be Beaufort, South Carolina, for shrimp, so it’s pretty cool, and I think we’re supporting the people around us with the food.”
The new concept will feature counter service during both the day and evening, a full bar, a 50-seat back deck, and a market where customers can buy items like small-batch vinaigrettes, locally made jams and preserves, and even ingredients like hydroponic lettuce.
It will also feature lots of salads, Havird’s meal of choice, mostly raw ingredients, no mayonnaise-based dressing, and very little use of natural gas, grease and other restaurants’ cooking methods, which can have a negative impact on the environment.
“I’m going to be back there cooking with a convection oven and that’s it,” he said. “Restaurants tend to leave a heavy, heavy footprint on our environment, so we’ll be operating all off of electricity. No natural gas, no grease, no frying. I feel that, as far as sustainability and leaving a footprint, there’s a dirty part of restaurants that people don’t see because it stays in the kitchen.”
The Usrys’ focus may be turning to their new venture, but loyal Fat Man’s customers shouldn’t worry about their old favorite. The Augusta institution is still going strong at Enterprise Mill, where they’re not only packed almost daily, but the to-go catering and events planning for weddings and parties is doing a booming business.
Here, Havird sees potential for growth and positive changes as well. The Usrys recently leased an Enterprise Mill loft which faces the courtyard, which can serve as a prep area for brides and their wedding parties. It even has salon chairs and mirrors.
Newly married couples can also stay in the loft after the ceremony and reception before heading off on their honeymoons.
“I feel like we’ve also improved things and, to be honest, there’s a lot of venues around town who’ve kind of stepped their game up, so, to be competitive with the venues we have in Augusta, we have to add those amenities and really cater to people,” he explained. “I think that’s kind of what we bring here is the full package: you come here, you can get ready here, you can have your rehearsal dinner here, you can have your wedding ceremony, your wedding reception. It’s all in one place, one office to book everything out of, so there’s no hop, skip and jumping to get everything taken care of.”
And with Augusta’s mild weather of the past few years, the outdoor areas like the gazebo and the covered patio with the working fireplace are being used more and more during what’s considered catering’s “off seasons.”
“What is January and February these days? It’s just another March, if we have another winter like we had last year. It’s super mild, and anybody can sit out in the gazebo for half an hour for a wedding ceremony. It’s beautiful,” he said. “The other covered space outdoors has a working fireplace, so even with holiday parties, people have the fireplace cranked up and bar out there.”
The only things Fat Man’s Mill Café and Catering don’t offer are photography and wedding cakes and, according to Havird, even the latter doesn’t make much of a difference these days. More and more couples, he explained, are moving away from traditional bride’s and groom’s cakes and toward popular items like dessert and candy bars. He’s even booked s’mores bars.
That flexibility is what customers love and it’s why the catering business is already booked up through the weekends in November and December for holiday parties, and is almost booked up through the next summer for weddings.
And that flexibility extends to Fat Man’s to-go catering for weekday lunches.
“That’s kind of our bread and butter as Fat Man’s, and the restaurant is really catering to the offices around town,” he said. “There’s nothing too small that we don’t take, and we really take care of our customers. I think that’s what puts us over the top of your corporate places that are now here in town. And customers know they can contact us two hours out and we’ll still make sure they have food there for lunch.”
Even while keeping the Fat Man’s train rolling along, the new restaurant is never far from Havird’s mind. In fact, make a visit to Fat Man’s and you’ll often see the “speshul” on the chalkboard is actually something he has in mind for the new place.
“I’m testing signature creations and recipes here. Right now we have one that has organic produce from East Georgia Produce in a salad that we’re running,” he said, referring to the Southern Summer Salad, which is topped with a sweet tea vinaigrette. “Though we’re six or seven months out from opening the doors of a new restaurant, we are testing the recipes, and it’s kind of nice to have a venue like Fat Man’s that’s open to testing those things and getting feedback from customers. So far so good.”
And though he doesn’t indulge often, Havird knows what his Fat Man’s customers really want.
“The meat and three is by far the most of what we sell,” he admitted. “People still come here and get a hefty lunch. Especially on a day like today, Friday, the ticket rack will be lined up. I think we’ve improved, even on the meat and three side. There’s always room for improvement to add love to those recipes. It’s called soul food because you have to add a little heart to it and love and soul to make sure things taste good for the folks coming through the door.”
For more information about Fat Man’s Mill Café and Catering, call 706-733-1740 or visit fatmans.com.