When you’ve been in business as long as Fat Man’s Mill Café has, it can sometimes be difficult to keep things fresh. Havird and Brad Usry, however, are starting the New Year with plans they hope will do exactly that.
Long-time fans of the family owned restaurant shouldn’t worry, however; none of those plans involving changing the time-tested formula that have made them a staple for good, Southern food. The Usrys are simply focused on making that food more widely available in 2017.
How? Well, for one, by expanding their catering operations to the Kroc Center.
“We just took over the 2017 contract at the Kroc Center,” said Havird Usry, vice president of operations and development at Fat Man’s. “They’ll manage the café, but all their events and catering aspects, anything that’s over 20 people that’s held at the Kroc Center, we’ll handle. And they have a capacity to seat about 300 people. It’s one of the only facilities besides the Legends Club that can seat that many folks.”
Unlike some other catering facilities in the area, though, the Kroc Center does not allow alcohol on their campus. While some might see that as a limitation, Havird just sees potential.
Fat Man’s and Enterprise Mill Events, which the Usrys also run, has handled many events in the past that don’t involve alcohol. They’ve set up a smoothie stations and coffee stations that line up with the fun aspects of catering events for which they’ve become known, so Havird has a vision for future events that doesn’t revolve around having a bar.
“The Kroc Center has a state-of-the-art IT system, they have a chapel there and they have a lot of classrooms and smaller rooms, so I think there’s a lot of opportunities for, say, Augusta University or corporate events around town that don’t need alcohol at their events,” he explained. “I think there’s a lot of untapped potential there. They’re already doing 5-8 events a week and weddings. I think it’s a good opportunity for us and I think it’s going to be a good partnership.”
Back at Fat Man’s, the focus is on streamlining operations. Several years ago, Havird and Brad invested in a catering software that allows them to stay more organized and do much of their work paperless. In 2017, they’re also focused on expanding their online ordering system.
“It’s super cool,” Havird said. “Like, yesterday, I bet we had eight or 10 people who ordered on it and walked in to pick up their food and didn’t have to wait in a line of 30 teenagers who were down here at noon visiting the canal. There are a lot of benefits to it with delivery and getting food out much quicker.”
To take advantage of this new system, customers simply have to visit the Fat Man’s website or their Facebook page and click on the “order online” button. They can also download the app on their phone by searching for “Fat Man’s Mill Café.”
The online ordering system also works with delivery, of which Fat Man’s does quite a lot. Havird estimates that they do between five and 15 office deliveries a day and they make it as quick and painless as possible for their customers to take advantage of this service. There’s a minimum of $25 for a delivery order and they have a generous delivery area that not only includes downtown and the medical district, but also a good portion of west and south Augusta. They can also manage last-minute catering projects — those in 24 hours or less — that most other caterers can’t handle.
These larger delivery orders, Havird said, also allow Fat Man’s to be a little more creative with their menus. He talked about a recent order that was in honor of a woman from Brazil, so they tailored their menu to include items she might enjoy such as Peri-Peri pulled chicken, Brazilian potato salad, fresh baked honey bread, and black beans and rice.
“That’s definitely not on our menu, but if folks request something like that, it keeps it fresh,” he said. “We get to make up recipes and have fun doing something a little more cultural.”
Fat Man’s prides itself on creativity, and not just with delivery orders. Wedding planning season, which is in full swing right now, is an aspect of the Usrys’ business that allows them to really have fun. They, of course, have a menu of tried and true favorites, but don’t hesitate at all to create something new for those who want that.
“I think there are a lot of more of those quote unquote foodie types out there now who want a cool menu that’s a little more forward than a southern buffet, and we try to stay up on that,” he said. “We like to be creative. I think it keeps me and my sous chef moving and keeps that creative mindset. We don’t like to get stuck in a rut and we try to be as inventive as possible. Whether it’s modern or rustic they want, we kind of try and match style with food. That’s something we take pride in.”
It’s not just food that Fat Man’s and Enterprise Mill Events can handle for their bridal and special event customers, however. While they offer off-site catering, Fat Man’s has a prime location along the Augusta Canal at Enterprise Mill that includes a gazebo popular for wedding ceremonies and lots of green space perfect for pictures.
And while they can handle a 350-person cocktail and heavy hors d’oeuvres wedding or a 200-person seated dinner, they aren’t limited to just food, drinks and venue.
“I hate the term one stop shop, but it is really,” Havird said. “You can come in here, meet with our coordinator and walk out and have almost your entire wedding planned except for the cake, DJ, flowers and a photographer, and we have preferred vendors that we kind of pass folks along to to make things run smoothly. It’s nice to be able to sit down in the office with a coordinator for two hours and get your ceremony, your reception, a timeline, food, alcohol and room setups done. We can knock it out pretty quick.”
Just because Fat Man’s can expedite the process, though, doesn’t mean they don’t take care with each and every event.
“It’s one of those things that gets to be routine for us, because you have so many inquiries and so many quotes, but at the same time you have to remember that this is, God willing, the only time that they get married and you want to make it absolutely perfect for them and don’t give them any kind of bad experience,” he said. “It’s always a reminder that you’re trying to write on your hand: don’t forget that this is a really special event for them.”
Havird estimates that Fat Man’s is now seeing 5-6 brides a day who come in to look at the facilities and talk to him and their wedding coordinator, so having the café open during the week really helps.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate, because we’re in a difficult position,” he explained. “We’re not in plain sight, we’re not sitting on a corner, but somehow we seem to draw that business crowd over for lunch Monday through Friday and I really feel kind of blessed to get them here. And it’s huge for the events side, because we’re available all the time and accessible when I feel like a lot of venues and caterers meet with people only by appointment. We have a lot of folks who come through here daily, eat lunch and stop in, and it gives us a sales opportunity that others don’t have.”
Brad and Havird Usry have a couple of other things up their sleeves for 2017 in Augusta that they aren’t quite ready to talk about yet. And while Havird’s contract with the Food Network, on which he was a contestant on the reality show Food Network Star in 2016, ended January 1, he is speaking with some production companies about other possible show ideas. He admits being on the show brought about a great deal of opportunities, but also says that anything that happens in the future would not be his main focus.
“That’s something I see as an opportunity on the side,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something I want to pursue full time, but if the opportunity is there, and the idea is there, the exposure for us as a business is great. If the opportunity presents itself, I think I would pursue it, but at the same time, it’s not going to be something I spend my life trying to chase because I think our bread and butter is here, serving good food to the people of Augusta.”
And that’s one thing that won’t change any time soon.