Editor's Note: Our Sunday restaurant feature "Dining in Douglas" this week spotlights Burke's Grill, opened in 2012 by Dwight and Peggy Burke.
The family-run restaurant appears to blend in with its surroundings until one steps inside and realizes the personality of the restaurant comes from its vibrant owners.
Classic rock, such as the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison, plays softly overhead. White tile floors, colorful chalk boards listing beer and wine options and various posters and pictures grab guests’ attention, including a Woodstock playbill.
An entire wall dedicated to what appears to be random newspaper sports articles actually has a “rhyme and reason” as to why they are there, according to married couple and owners Peggy and Dwight Burke. That reason is to inspire and remind Dwight about his restaurant and its mission.
The June 29, 1992, edition of "The News & Advance" in Lynchburg, Virginia, has a picture of Dwight and the two oldest Burke girls — Nikki and Sara — featured on the front page. Peggy called that the "summer of our girls' lives." They had tickets to all of the Lynchburg Red Sox home games that year.
“Being in the back here, Dwight can see out into the dining room,” explained Peggy. ..."They were at a Red Sox game getting autographs before a game. To him, that signifies love and family."
“That is why I put those up there,” added Dwight. “If I am having a tough day in the kitchen, I can look at them and that is the design of the business there: love, hard work, great results and perfection.”
The couple’s personality continues to the back corner, which they call their Family Wall. Peggy and Dwight, who have been married for 35 years, have a photo of them from their wedding day on the wall. Pictures of both sides of their family cover the corner. There are pictures of Dwight's biological mother, who was Japanese, and his foster mother, Ma Thatcher, who Peggy said is her husband's "influence for the way he cooks."
“She was a great Southern cook,” said Dwight. “She taught me to love black-eyed peas and turnip greens. It inspired me to want to go to culinary school.”
While the personality and familial love pours from the owners and the restaurant's décor, guests are welcome to sit at a select number of tables, booths, half-booths and half-tables, which seats a maximum of 60. Diners should be warned that Sundays after church are particularly busy.
“By the time [the church goers] get here, we have a line out the door,” said Peggy. “We only have two places to put groups of eight so we have to get creative. If I have to, I can flip the booths and move tables to accommodate a bigger group.”
The family-owned establishment began when Dwight noticed that Douglasville was missing something vital.
“I thought that Douglasville was missing a niche,” explained Dwight. “It doesn’t have that local community restaurant where you can come in and people know your name. We don’t have any in Douglasville. We have plenty of chain restaurants. I thought if we did it right, we could have our own little niche of good Southern cooking, a little culinary flair on a few things. I thought it would be a market where we wouldn’t have a whole lot of competition.”
The couple, inspired in part by the classic TV show “Cheers” where everybody knows your name, strives to make their restaurant like home for their customers.
“Everybody is family,” said Peggy. “We want to know who you are and to make you feel comfortable. We have some people tell us that is the reason they keep coming back; it’s because when they walk in the door, we call their name out.”
Peggy also likes to hug guests as they both enter and leave.
“That is our business statement here, our mission statement,” said Dwight. “There are times in here where Peggy will know just about everybody in the dining room. One of the things I realized is if we had that niche of learning people’s name and if Peggy hugs everybody when they come in and the food is halfway decent, we are going to win this war.”
Burke’s Grill covers a wide variety of Southern cooking with a bit of a Cajun twist to it. Peggy describes her restaurant as “down-home Southern at lunch” and “upscale dinner at night.”
The menu is broken down into appetizers, salads, sandwiches and burgers, dinner entrees, a kids menu and desserts. The Sunday menu covers brunch entrees, too, and an entire page is dedicated to daily lunches as well as lunch specials.
“Every day of the week, we have a different lunch special,” explained Peggy. “We usually do a vegetable of the day. We do a soup of the day. We do a lot.”
The half-pound burgers are hand patted and mixed with a blend to ensure that they are good and juicy. The Burkes buy their produce from the State Farmers Market in Forest Park to guarantee fresh, quality food.
If any guests happen to be food challengers looking for their next competition, they will find that the Double D Cheeseburger with fries is right up their alley.
“You eat the whole thing with the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, everything that comes with it,” said Peggy. “It’s a full pound of meat and a pound of fries. If you eat the whole thing, we take your picture and put it on our Facebook page and say ‘You dominated the Double D.’”
Dwight runs the kitchen and comes up with the majority of the food items while Peggy and one of their daughters Erinn, who co-manages with her mother, makes suggestions from time to time.
“There are a few items that were a family conglomeration,” said Peggy. “We all make suggestions. Dwight does the majority of it and he comes up with the recipes. Erinn does most of the special desserts that we do.”
Dwight enjoys being able to have flexibility and creativity with his menu while Peggy is in charge of posting his decisions on their Facebook page and blog for customers.
"I worked in concepts where there was a very structured menu so I wanted to make it where I had a little creative power every day," said Dwight. "Peggy asks me every day what the vegetable of the day is and what the soup of the day is. It changes to whatever I feel like making. That is the luxury of being your own boss."
One special detail about the menu is that is involves a few paleo dishes, which were inspired by Rocky Piwko, co-owner of the CrossFit gym next door.
“All of the items that are designated with the hashtag are paleo items, which translates into gluten free but they are stricter than gluten free,” explained Peggy. “That’s how [Rocky] eats and he helped us."
“He gave us the cookbooks and we tried probably 15 different items,” added Dwight. “We settled on five that I thought offered the best and had the best taste.”
The Burkes even dedicated a sandwich to their friend: the Rocky Special, which is like the Double D without a bun and sweet potato French fries.
Another unique addition to the menu is the Captain Herb Fund. Captain Herb Emory, a local traffic reporter who passed away three years ago from a heart attack, was a regular at Burke’s Grill, where he was known for two things: eating extra vegetables and paying for people in uniform.
“Every time there was anybody in uniform, military, first responders, he would always buy their meals,” explained Dwight. “He didn’t care how many people were in here. When he passed away, Peggy asked Karen, his wife, if we could name a four-vegetable plate after him. He wouldn’t eat just three vegetables; he would always add on grits. We have done over $50,000 in discounted meals since we started all that."
“The police officers get to eat free once a week if they are in uniform,” continued Dwight. “In this day and age, it makes you feel good. These guys are under so much scrutiny and pressure right now, there is a place they can go and sit down, relax and truly be appreciated.
“Herb was an extremely generous man,” added Peggy. “That is why we started the fund, to honor him.”
Overall, the Burkes are content with their spot and plan to continue supporting their community.
"This is more than we can handle," said Dwight. "It is doing more than I ever expected. It is doing more than what the business plan called for."