Duo opens unique gourmet eatery

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 26, 2004

Once upon a time, there were two ladies named Jan Newton and Julie Autrey who each had a special dream.

Jan, a Butler County girl, had once worked as an apprentice in her great-aunt’s bakery. She loved to create beautiful wedding cakes and all-occasion cakes, whipped up in her home kitchen for family and friends. Jan’s dream: to have her own delicious-smelling bakery one day.

Julie grew up eating good fresh shrimp, gumbo, crab cakes, red beans and rice and other Creole delights down in Bayou La Batre, the ‘Seafood Capital of Alabama’. Julie, who also happened to be a coffee aficionado, dreamed of one day owning her very own coffee shop and deli.

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Sometimes, dreams do come true.

Winning rave reviews

Welcome to the Camellia City’s newest eatery, Jan and Julie’s Coffee Caf\u00E9, located at 1052 Pine Apple Highway. Open since last Tuesday, the fledgling business is already drawing rave reviews from locals and travelers alike who enjoy its intriguing blend of tasty food and friendly, &uot;down-home&uot; service – flavored with a distinctly cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Whether it’s a regular cup of &uot;joe&uot; or a double shot of Caramel Macchiato; a fresh blueberry muffin, hot Italian Ciabatta sandwich or a southern gourmet luncheon featuring pork chops, a plate full of side fixins’, a generous helping of banana pudding and a glass of sweet tea – morning, noon or afternoon, Jan and Julie’s Coffee Caf\u00E9 offers something likely to please anyone’s palate.

A transformation

Owners Jan Autrey Newton and Julie Taylor Autrey have completely transformed the former &uot;no-frills&uot; convenience store building (which briefly housed M.J.’s Caf\u00E9).

Today, you’ll find a charming structure complete with a black and white striped awning and a sign featuring their trademark chef’s hat (for Jan) and a steaming hot cup of coffee (a la Julie).

In front, pots of greenery and colorful mosaic-tiled tables for two beckon customers to dine outside. A white picket fence, which formerly graced a historic home in Mobile, suggests the pleasures of good old-fashioned home cooking.

Inside, shades of chili sauce red and string bean green accented with black (&uot;We knew it was a sign from above when we heard the names of those colors&uot;, says Jan) combine with a charming Parisian street scene wallpaper border for a continental flair.

In the dining area, seating for nearly 40 guests features striking black and white toile seatback covers (courtesy of Lana Kirshner of Kirshner Fabrics). A beautiful custom-made wooden counter, built by Wesley Black of Pigeon Creek Cabinetry, invites customers to step up and take a gander at the hand-written menus on the chalkboards.

Display shelves in the dining area feature an abundance of items offered for sale, including espresso machines, coffee grinders, teas, coffees, gourmet snacks, Jan and Julie’s own homemade candies and unique gift baskets.

A good start

In spite of Jan’s pre-opening jitters (&uot;One night I dreamed we opened and no one showed up&uot;), many people have stopped by since Jan and Julie’s opened last week.

&uot;The crowds have been wonderful and the business really steady since we opened,&uot; says Julie (&uot;The Coffee Lady&uot;) Autrey with a smile.

Jan, chef’s hat atop her head, surveys the new interior with pride.

&uot;So many people in this community and our family members came together and helped us make this dream come true,&uot; she says.

An international flavor

The two women began planning their dream in November 2003, officially establishing the business in May 2004. On their road to the November opening, the pair traveled to food shows in Washington, D.C., New York and Atlanta. &uot;We wanted to explore what was out there…you know, bring a touch of the big city to our little town,&uot; explains Jan.

Visitors will discover a distinct international flavor, coupled with southern tradition, at Jan and Julie’s. The caf\u00E9’s espresso machine is direct from Italy; on the breakfast menu, you’ll find British scones along with sausage biscuits, while Greek baklava and Italian tiramisu mingle with pecan pie and pound cake in the dessert selections.

&uot;Our goal is to be unique and unconventional here,&uot; Jan says.

Family ties

The two women have a special family connection.

Julie’s husband, Daniel Autrey, is Jan’s first cousin, and the two grew up together in Butler County. Time spent on their grandmother’s farm meant &uot;a multitude of fresh vegetables, wonderful meats from the family smokehouse, fresh eggs and only the best desserts a grandmother’s country kitchen could produce,&uot; says Jan. Those early years, combined with the time she spent working in her aunt Alma Childs’ bakery, helped Jan develop an appreciation of good southern cuisine.

It seems to be a family tradition.

These days, Cousin Daniel, who is an assistant coach and teacher at Fort Dale Academy, also serves as the caf\u00E9’s celebrated biscuit maker. &uot;Daniel has always made the best biscuits – my daughter begs for them,&uot; says Julie.

Many other Newton and Autrey family members have also pitched in at the cafe in its opening days, helping cook and wait tables. Jan assures us, however, husband Charles stays out of the kitchen.

&uot;Representative Newton is one of our best customers – we can all be grateful he’s not putting his cooking ability to use here,&uot; she says with a chuckle.

Julie brings her knowledge of seafood dishes and Creole specialties to the new venture. Her mom’s gumbo recipe already has patrons calling for more.

&uot;It’s really just good home cooking,&uot; Julie demurs.

&uot;Well, what they call ‘home cooking’, we call ‘gourmet,’&uot; responds Jan with a smile.

She adds, &uot;I think Julie and I make a good combination. She’s the ‘coffee and sandwich lady’ and I back her up with the country lunches…I’m having so much fun creating dishes and browsing through the cookbooks to decide what I want to prepare each day.&uot;

Waiter Amber Butts says with a smile, &uot;I never know what we are going to serve for lunch until I get here each day – it’s interesting.&uot;

Helping hands

Autrey and Newton didn’t do any advertising for help. Turns out they didn’t have to.

&uot;It was amazing… we basically collected our staff along the way as these wonderful people kept coming to us,&uot; says Julie.

Lamont Albritton arrived at their door one day with the confident announcement, &uot;You need a cook&uot;. Albritton, who comes from a long line of kitchen experts (&uot;I have at least nine cooks in my family&uot;) also brought &uot;a lot of knowledge of how to run a kitchen,&uot; says Jan, adding, &uot;When we told us he loved to do two things – cook and clean – we were thrilled.&uot;

Experience at the Waffle House, Ruby Tuesday and Piccadilly’s Cafeteria in Montgomery have also given Albritton a good grasp of health codes and standards – a &uot;big help&uot; to the fledgling caf\u00E9 owners, says the pair.

Rebecca Manning Richardson, who brings several years of valuable restaurant management experience to the business, is another one of their &uot;star employees&uot;, Jan says.

&uot;Rebecca’s our boss,&uot; she adds with a smile.

Waitresses Danielle Mitchell, Amber Butts and Michelle Russell take good care of the customers at Jan and Julie’s.

&uot;Amber also works at Ruby Tuesday and Michelle, at Cambrian Ridge. This is Danielle’s first waitressing position, but she has picked it up just like that,&uot; Julie says.

Hattie Kemp serves as the caf\u00E9’s trusted &uot;caretaker&uot; (&uot;Boy, is she learning to do it all – she delivers food to our family members each day&uot;).

Chef Bo Adams, a New Orleans chef and Jan’s nephew-in-law, also came in the first few days to help Jan and Julie kick off their new venture, offering gourmet touches such as his &uot;amuse-bouche&uot; (French for &uot;happy mouth&uot;) for the guests to enjoy.

&uot;We’ve had SO many family and friends who have stepped in and helped us – it’s like the Academy Awards, you want to be sure and thank everyone,&uot; Jan says with a laugh.

Hot eats, cold treats

Check out the menu at Jan and Julie’s and you’ll discover a variety of soups, sandwiches, salads and wraps along with the ever-changing hot gourmet lunch. Breakfast items include bagels, muffins, scones, cinnamon rolls, croissants, hot ham and cheese biscuits and fresh fruit cups among the selections.

If you have a sweet tooth, the dessert menu offers everything from homemade &uot;Krispy&uot; treats to luscious cheesecake.

And then, of course, there is a long list of beverages: coffee and tea, iced and hot; cocoa, cappuccino, espresso-based drinks and frozen delights such as Creme Brulee and Italian Ice.

&uot;The children love to come here after school and get our frozen drinks…we have one item on our menu, Tay’s Frozen Hot Chocolate, named for my daughter, Taylor – it’s a real hit with the kids,&uot; Julie says.

The duo also offers catering services in addition to their caf\u00E9, retail and gift basket business.

&uot;We really feel there is a market here for what we have to have to offer – it’s been hectic the last few days getting everything off the ground, but we feel we’ve been blessed. We are excited about the future,&uot; says Jan.

Jan and Julie’s Coffee Caf\u00E9 is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Breakfast hours are 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call the caf\u00E9 at 371-8646 or e-mail the ladies at janandjulies@camelliacom.com.