For Dickson restaurant owner Jeanine Smith, what matters most is the quality of the food and the service.
Her more than four decades of experience has included not only 30 years in fast food management but also seven years as executive chef for Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Café on Fly Road in Santa Fe, Tenn.
“He is the gentleman who trained me to become a Cajun chef,” she said. “He told me there’s no way to teach the passion to have for it. He said he’d never seen anyone with the passion I have.
“Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Café on Fly Road in Santa Fe, Tennessee was a little yellow/purple cinder block building that looked like if you slammed the door the whole building would collapse. He moved from Louisiana and opened a six-table restaurant in middle of nowhere. But it’s the most amazing Cajun food me and my husband, Tommy, ever ate. People come from five states — athletes, celebrities, movie stars. I saw Kid Rock land his helicopter in a field across from the restaurant.”
For the past year, Smith has been the owner and operator of Jeanine’s Café at the location for the High Point Restaurant, which had been a popular eatery for locals and travelers in the past.
For three years prior to opening her present location, she operated a smaller version of Jeanine’s Café on Highway 96 near Church Street across for the Dollar General Store in Burns.
“It was a learning experience,” she said. “I’ve been in the restaurant business and the food industry since I was 14, and I will soon be 59. I basically outgrew that building and had the opportunity to come here. I was actually a server right here working for Shirley Gill who ran High Point in the early to mid-80s. I was a server, and I helped her in the kitchen. Even after I left for fast food management, she would still call me to help her out on my days off. She taught me a lot. That’s the reason that the High Point sign out front will not come down. This place is a landmark.”
Just 10 days after leaving the location in Burns, she and her husband and workers from the Burns Café founds themselves at home in the location.
“The business has been beyond what I even thought,” she said. “I knew business would increase here, but I did not imagine to this capacity. Looking back, I had always worked for someone else. I was an executive chef before I left to open up my own place. It’s tougher to get up and go work for someone else than it is to own and have your name over that door.”
She cited two recent diners from London who said that customer service reviews had brought them to the restaurant.
“I’m very pleased with the business I have, but you always want more customers coming through that door,” she said. “In fact, the people we serve are guests and not customers.”
She said the restaurants seats 85 and is often at capacity, with the busiest times bring Friday night, Saturday morning and Sundays.
Smith noted that she really is picky about quality and that the meats she uses are fresh, never frozen.
“As for season, our catfish is farm raised out of Mississippi,” she said. “Crawfish is from the Gulf Coast or Alabama. We don’t get anything foreign. I am picky right down to the brand of ketchup. I tried five brands of coffee to get the one that’s best. It really doesn’t matter what I like. What matters is what the people who fill my chairs like.”
She said that the Cajun foods are among the most popular.
“Quality comes from spending eight, nine or 10 hours in that kitchen, stirring the pot of gumbo or a pot of red beans. You also got to get your roux perfect for étouffée. Cajun cooking is a passion of mine,” she said.
Born and raised in the Claylick community of White Bluff off of Highway 250, Smith said that she describes her menu as Southern cooking with a twist.
“A big part is meat and three type Southern cooking, but once a month, on the first Friday, we have Cajun,” she said. “We’ll have one last crawfish and shrimp boil and then won’t have that again until it’s in season in February.”
She said there are eight workers on staff, with four part-time and four full time, adding that five of the eight are family.
“But everybody here is treated like family,” she said. “They work with me, not for me. I sweep, mop, clean the bathrooms, bus tables, wait tables, run the cash register — whatever is needed.”
She said that 30 years working in the fast food industry taught her to learn how to control stress, and to treat crew members with respect.
Her years in management at Waffle House, Burger King, Long John Silver’s, McDonald’s and Arby’s were tough because she would miss time to celebrate her kids’ birthdays, with other days slighted such as Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Popular items at Jeanine’s Café are her fried chicken fried with a special blend of breading she created and Louisiana red fish on Fridays.
“It’s a very white, mild, flaky fish that’s served baked or fried,” she said, adding that “many people don’t realize that blackening fish or any other meat or fowl is seasoning, not burning.”