Great Southern Café restaurant building has a storied past by Pratt Farmer
It’s only fitting that the building known as the Great Southern Café serves up, among other things, delectable egg dishes. Maybe a tribute to the buildings’ origin in Chattahoochee, Fla. near Two Egg. Yes, there is actually a little community by that name. It has no government, no taxes, no service and no city-like attitude. At least that’s what they claim on their website. Two Egg is proudly isolated from the world. Chattahoochee, Fla. is right up the road from Sneads and a stone’s throw from Two Egg. You get the idea. The building, which actually was one of the oldest structures in Chattahoochee is now the Great Southern Café. It has an interesting history for sure. If you have eaten in the restaurant in the heart of Seaside’s Central Square you probably recognized that it looks like it was once someone’s house. That’s because it was. The Florida cracker-style house design was popular in the early 1900s. It’s wide covered porches, tin roof and large windows offered some relief from the hot summers here. Thousands were built across the state.
Legend has it that in 1988, or thereabouts, several houses in Chattahoochee were to be practically given away to make room for a road project. A young couple had become enchanted with Seaside and wanted to live here. But they wanted to forego architects and builders. So they set out to convince town founders, Robert and Daryl Davis, to allow them to actually move one of those houses to a lot on East Ruskin Street. And they did. It is worth noting that Two Egg is 98 miles northeast of Seaside and Chattahoochee is a little farther; a long way to drag a house. Ducky Johnson, a well-known mover of just about anything (and still is), was chosen for the task. After many weeks of preparation and a lot of back and forth with local and state officials at both ends of the route, Johnson’s boys put the building on a platform, removed a portion of the roof and transported it at night. Moving almost at the pace of a snail, it made for long nights, safely arriving several days after it began its trek to Seaside. The young couple had a Seaside home, finally.
This is where the story gets interesting. A year or two passed and Seaside was becoming known. People were naturally being attracted to a little community that had that “down-home” feeling about it. But it needed more food and beverage offerings. Bud & Alley’s restaurant was here, Dawson’s Yogurt might have been. Knowing the house on East Ruskin Street was for sale, a couple of employees in Seaside convinced the Davises to buy the little cottage from the young couple and move it to Central Square. They just knew that food and maybe a few wine selections would be a hit. And once again the little house was on the move, and The Rose Cafe opened to wide acclaim. Well, at least people from as far away as Grayton Beach knew there was a new restaurant in town.
After a year, Billy McConnell, a noted restaurateur and some would say “provocateur” from Birmingham, Ala., was convinced he needed to lease The Rose. It didn’t take long for McConnell and his business partner to seize the opportunity. They changed the name to Shades. And McConnell soon became a loveable fixture around town. The gregarious McConnell knew how to run restaurants and make customers happy. It was a winning combination. He reflects back on those early days speaking fondly of the “ghosts.”
“We would be in Shades late at night getting ready for the next day and it wasn’t uncommon to see pitchers, dishes and the occasional cup fly off the shelf,” he recalls. “One balmy summer night an employee and I walked out the front door and just as I was about to put the key in the lock, a fierce cold wind almost knocked us both down. I always thought one of the ghosts either wanted back in the house or maybe intended to go home with me that night.”
Shades was eventually sold. Later, chef and restaurateur Jim Shirley bought the restaurant and renamed it Great Southern Café, paying homage to the building’s rich and storied history, and reflecting a menu that is truly Southern in every way. If you are having a cocktail at the bar or a sumptuous meal in one of the rooms in the house, think nothing of it should your menu find its way to the floor or to the table next to you. Rumor has it the ghosts like the tables to be set a certain way. Bon appetite.