S&S Cafeterias (S&S) is a fourth-generation family-owned eatery chain based in Macon, Ga. In 1936, James A. Smith Jr. opened the company’s first location in Columbus, Ga.; he was a well-known restaurateur in the area and the first cafeteria found immediate success. In 1949, the family established its own buying and distribution program in order to supply the restaurants. This has led to better efficiency and improved value down the line for customers.
James A. Smith Jr.’s son, also named James A. Smith, who goes by Jim, is the CEO of S&S. Furthermore, his son, yet another James A. Smith, serves as the company’s president. Thus far, four James A. Smiths have worked in the family business.
“My father had three restaurants in the Macon, Ga., area and decided that cafeterias were the wave of the future,” Jim recounts. “He went to Columbus, Ga., to open his first cafeteria while maintaining his existing restaurants until 1945. A local competitor in Macon told him that he would never understand the cafeteria business. Later, after much success, he went back and bought that guy out.”
Today, S&S operates eight locations in three states, allowing customers to enjoy home-style comfort food in Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia. At one time, the business also had locations in Florida; however, demographics have shifted over the years. Jim employs approximately 400 people between the restaurants and the commissary.
Supply and demand
The commissary has become an important part of operations for S&S. The facility, operating as State Wholesale Food, is the company’s manufacturing hub. The wholesale business supplies food products for every location, cutting out the middleman to improve efficiency and value. This arm of the business allows S&S to put out consistent, original family recipes every day.
The business typically offers 105 menu items on the line each day. Customers can stop in for some home-style country comfort food for lunch or supper. “We offer classic entrees, such as chopped steak, chicken and dumplings, chicken pot pie, beef stew, liver and onions and fried chicken,” Jim says. “We have a range of salads, vegetables, desserts and breads. All of our items are available for dine-in or takeout.”
The selection at the classic counter-style eatery has remained mostly consistent over the years, although Jim and his team strive to keep up with consumer demand and changing food trends.
“Our salad counters have seen changes for health reasons,” he explains. “Among our salads, we offer tossed salad, spinach salad, congealed salads and fresh fruit. We have also introduced new pastries and fruit pies with no sugar added for diabetics and dieters. In addition, we offer some desserts at half the slice, half the price with half the calories.”
Jim explains that while cafeterias are not as prevalent now in the United States, the structure of the business allowed S&S to stay ahead. The convenience and affordability of S&S’ eateries has drawn a growing customer base in recent years.
“We have found a thriving clientele in Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina,” Jim explains. “Through the recession our customer count has increased every year due to people having to watch their money. Meanwhile, the price of food is escalating and we try to remain fair to our customers.”
While the classic reliability of S&S continues to draw customers, according to Jim, being open to change is most important to the company’s success. “We have had suggestion and comment cards on every table since WWII,” Jim explains. “We work for our customers and every one of our employees is on board. Those employees are the reason we are successful. We hire people for their attitude. Every cafeteria has pictures of their employees, which includes their position – waitress, line server, baker, etc. – and their hire date. We have numerous long-tenured employees.”
All in all, Jim chalks the company’s success up to hard work, a lesson he learned at an early age in the family business. “My father taught us the business with the right training and suggested we earn our own in the company,” Jim says. “The lesson was how to make money out of food.”
Looking ahead, Jim plans to keep the momentum going; he plans a few new locations to offer more service to customers. Jim’s hands-on approach to management helps the business continue to push employees forward as managers, chefs and even the pot washers learn the business. Dedicated to hard work, quality food and a positive customer experience, S&S Cafeterias continues to serve up quality comfort food to a growing customer base in the Southeast.