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Culpepper Cafe: A family business

By Staff
KEEP IT SIMPLE Ellie Culpepper prepares a bowl of biscuit pudding. The daily dessert specials range from banana pudding to apple crumb cake. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star
By Penny Randall / staff writer
June 5, 2002
Culpepper Cafe in Collinsville will celebrate its first year in business on Aug. 15. The husband and wife team of Ellie and Chad Culpepper are thrilled with the success of their restaurant.
Keep it simple
The Culpeppers want to keep the food simple and good.
She realized on opening day the idea was not going to work.
Culpepper's sister flew in that day from Detroit to surprise her. She stood in line for 45 minutes before anyone recognized her.
Catering menu
The cafe is a longtime dream of Ellie and Chad, who have been catering special events in the area for the four years. Wedding receptions, birthday parties and anniversaries bring in lots of business. They recently fed 500 people at a reception honoring a local pastor.
Steaks, marinated chicken breast and fried chicken salad topped with their homemade honey mustard dressing are the most requested items on the catering menu.
For dessert, a hot fudge cream puff is the No. 1 request. The hollow puff is stuffed with ice cream and a hot fudge. Ellis has the fudge, only available in Michigan, shipped in for the special treat.
A family business
Only family members are allowed in the kitchen.
Ellie's mother, Joyce Shelton, comes in on Fridays to fry chicken. Her mother-in-law, Carolyn Culpepper, makes the cornbread dressing and her father-in-law, Arnold, and his brother, Rusty, come in to roll the silverware in napkins.
Ellie's best friend of 25 years, Leeta Pearson, cooks bread and helps with the desserts.
Ellie said the family table has a special meaning. "If you're sitting there, I don't have to kill myself to wait on you or we may even run out of food before we get to you," she said.
Their son, Andrew, heads the clean-up crew. Younger daughters Jessie and Lexi also help out.
Hopes and plans
The couple describes the food as a "basic Southern plate lunch" a meat, three vegetables, dessert and tea for $6.
Entrees include smoked chicken, country fried steak, pork roast, meat loaf and fried chicken. Vegetables include fried okra, squash, cream potatoes, turnip greens and black-eyed peas. The dessert of the day ranges from peach cobbler to banana pudding.
This week, the cafe started opening for breakfast from 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and plans are under way for a "Chitlins Supper" on the first Saturday of each month, beginning in September.
The restaurant currently feeds 70-90 people a day. The couple hopes that number grows in the future.
But for now, the couple is happy keeping it simple. Just like their slogan "Jeetyet?" That's "Did you eat yet?" for you non-Southerners.