For Gretchen Shoemaker and her husband, George, the weekend mornings were for cooking, dancing and love.
That was their private time between juggling the care of their three daughters, George’s job as an engineer and Gretchen’s catering business.
Each morning, Gretchen, whose dream was to someday own a restaurant, would prepare food for her catering gig. George would put on Al Green or Lou Rawls as he joined his wife in blending spices and other ingredients, taking occasional breaks to share a dance.
And the daughters would giggle from another room as they witnessed their parents’ obvious affection.
“My husband really was a partner,” said 76-year-old Shoemaker about George, who died 25 years ago. “My daughter described me and my husband as the cup and the saucer.”
Peach cobbler at Georgia’s Restaurant.(Kevin Chang / Weekend)
After she lost her husband, Shoemaker found it difficult to continue her catering business.
“I sat in the kitchen crying and saying that I couldn’t do it without him,” she recalled. “It wasn’t fun anymore.”
However, when her middle daughter, Nika Shoemaker-Machado, and Nika’s husband, Marlon Machado, decided they wanted to open their own business about two decades later, Shoemaker knew it was time for her to jump in again.
“You know what, it’s my dream that I want you guys to work on,” Shoemaker said.
And so the family opened Georgia’s Restaurant at the Anaheim Packing District in June 2014.
The restaurant in the multi-business establishment serves soul food like fried chicken, fried catfish, corn bread and black-eyed peas, as well as other popular dishes like jambalaya and tri-tip steak. Soulful sides include corn on the cob, mac and cheese, and collard greens.
Each dish is from a recipe belonging to Shoemaker or her mother or grandmother, who she grew up with in the 1940s.
Gretchen has never written down her recipes. They all come from her memory, which made things a bit difficult for Shoemaker-Machado and her husband.
“That was the hardest thing … getting things translated from her mind to a recipe,” said Shoemaker-Machado, 47, who lives in Lake Forest with her mother.
The family saw a need for a soul food restaurant with good service after visiting a eatery in Riverside that had delicious dishes but very little interaction with customers.
“We wanted to open a restaurant where we would produce good food but the service was also outstanding,” said Shoemaker-Machado, whose son also works at Georgia’s. “We wanted people to come in and dine with us and feel like they were dining in our own home.”
She said 250 to 350 people eat at Georgia’s each day, adding that the weekends can usually mean long lines for customers. But, she said, the food is worth the wait.
Sandwiches, with fries or cole slaw, range from $7.95 to $11.95 for the tri-tip. Entrees range from $10.95 to $16.95 for the St. Louis BBQ Ribs. Dessert and wine and beer are available.
“When we first thought of this, we thought we would be a little place in a little strip mall and maybe we’d serve 75 to 80 people a day,” Shoemaker-Machado said. “This is beyond our wildest dreams for anything that we ever thought we would have.”
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said he visits Georgia’s often.
He said he enjoys the authentic food and chatting with Shoemaker.
“Anyone who starts a new business at 75 years of age is a very inspiring person,” Tait said. “I used to live in Nashville, so I know good Southern cooking when I taste it. Georgia’s hits it out of the park.”
Shoemaker said she’s proud of the business and reputation she and her family have built together.
“It’s amazing now that I’m a 76-year-old black woman and I can go into business,” she said. “I just feel so happy. I made it. Life couldn’t be any better. I get up every morning and I thank God that life is so good.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through was losing George, but this has really taught me that I am still so blessed.”
Georgia’s Restaurant is at 440 S. Anaheim Blvd., Suite 209A, Anaheim. It is open daily, but hours vary. For more information, contact (714) 906-1900 or email@example.com.