Vittles is back.
The beloved country cooking joint off South Cobb Drive in Smyrna is open once more with new management and a whole new look after being shut down for over a year.
Vittles opened in 1982 and closed just shy of its 36th anniversary, the MDJ previously reported. Marilyn “Mace” Donaldson, the founder and original owner, said it was getting to be too much work and she wanted to slow down.
The new owner, Charity Salyers, decided to reopen the spot with Donaldson’s blessing. She spoke to the MDJ on Wednesday afternoon, two days after the restaurant’s opening as servers rushed around with trays of fried chicken, greens and cornbread.
“It’s been very, very busy. We couldn’t have asked for a better turnout,” she said.
Salyers said opening day was a little rough, but the staff had quickly gotten into the swing of things.
“It took a little while for our equipment to get calibrated, stuff like that,” she said. “With any new restaurant, that happens. There was a little bit of a wait time Monday, not as bad yesterday, and today has been great. … Everybody is very happy today. Today’s the third day, and for two days, we’ve been full from open to close.”
One relic from the original Vittles still standing is the veterans’ wall, where veterans who dine there can sign their names. Salyers said that’s not going anywhere.
But much else in the restaurant has undergone big changes. The former smoking section with its tar-stained walls has been cleaned out and the entire establishment is now smoke-free. The extensive selection of gifts and tchotchkes has been significantly reduced, but the walls are still decorated with an eclectic collection of knick-knacks.
Salyers said the restaurant is still Vittles at its core, with most of the menu retained along with the addition of some healthy options.
Salyers also brought on many members of the former staff, like waitress Joyce Hatcher, who worked six years at Vittles’ previous incarnation.
“It feels pretty good,” Hatcher said with a smile as she scooped ice cubes into a pitcher. “I didn’t really think I’d miss a lot of the customers, but I did.”
Dann Booth, a Smyrna resident who works for an auto parts company, said he was heartbroken when the spot shut down.
“To me, it was like I lost a brother,” he said. “Sometimes after church I’d come by and get a to-go box or something. It was a sad day then, but it’s a happy day now.”
Booth was sharing a table with his girlfriend, Christine Brown, a Smyrna retiree. Brown sipped from a glass of tea as she waited for her country fried steak, the same dish she ordered 10 years ago on their first date, which they had at Vittles.
Other Vittles regulars had similar stories about the friends they’ve made at Vittles over the years.
“Vittles is ‘Cheers’ without the beers,” said John Kersey, a security guard from Smyrna.
Before taking over Vittles, Salyers was manager of Dolly’s Farmhouse in Austell, which is in the midst of reconstruction after it was damaged in a fire last year. She brought along some of Dolly’s staff, including head cook Liz Bucy.
Bucy said she’s happy to be working with old friends from Dolly’s and to get to know the former Vittles staff.
“We’re all a family, we’ve all worked together for years. Her kids have grown up around us,” Bucy said, gesturing toward another employee. “We’re a family even outside of work.”
Owner Salyers agreed.
“Even the old ones who are coming back, they’re fitting right in,” she said. “And it’s just the third day, so I’m hoping it just gets even better.”
For more information, visit www.ilovevittles.com.