DeSoto’s Only Restaurant: Papa & Mama Chat’s Soul Food

Published 9:31 am Friday, December 8, 2023

There is a small restaurant in downtown DeSoto that serves take out and catering. Around the size of a food truck, vivid purple signage displays the menu next to a turquoise welcome sign. Expressing the enthusiasm and energy that one would expect of a small business owner, Bernice Watts talks about how she had come to start Papa & Mama Chat’s Soul Food, the only restaurant currently open in DeSoto.

“I was riding down the road one day, and God said, ‘Open up a restaurant.’ And that’s what I did.”

Watts describes her restaurant as a Southern soul food restaurant, serving items such as Papa’s pound cake, Mama Chat’s famous dressing, Jade’s peach cobbler, fried chicken, fried pork chops, collard greens, black eyed peas, butter beans.

When asked about the inspiration for the name, Watts fondly talks about her grandparents.

“My parents had seventeen children. I’m number seventeen. So, when my mom got ready to go back to work, her parents Papa & Mama Chat kept me. They inspired me, they influenced me, taught me how to be a young lady, how to act around people. I’m glad of the upbringing that they gave me.”

Bernice mentions she had no previous restaurant experience and initially planned on having her nephew do the cooking.

“Some things happened down the road where my nephew wasn’t able to come in and do the cooking, so this is what I had to do. I would be rich if I had a nickel for every time someone said ‘Bernice, I didn’t know you can cook.’ Because I’ve never been a cook. I’ve never had to cook, because I’ve always had a large family, and they did the cooking. It was a few trial and errors, but I think that I’m pretty good.”

Working at a small restaurant, Bernice wears a variety of hats.

“I’m the cook, and I’m the cashier at times, and I’m the inventory manager. I’m all of that. I have two young ladies that come in and help me on Sundays, but Friday and Saturday I’m pretty much pulling it myself. I work my full-time job, I get off there on Fridays, come here, Saturday, I do this.”

Watts mentioned that most of her regulars are locals, though occasionally word of mouth will draw visitors from Andersonville, Americus, or even Cordele. She talked about the response she has received from the local community.

“I have gotten a lot of regular customers that I have never seen before that live in this area that have supported me from day one, and they have been coming back if not every week or every month, I will see them some time or another, and that gives me the greatest feeling. And I say ‘where do you live?’ ‘Oh I live on the outside of Leslie’ or ‘Oh, I live down there on Chokee road in DeSoto.’ And I’m like ‘I’ve never seen you before.’

They appreciate me being here. They appreciate it whenever they want good food. I understand that they don’t want it every Sunday, they don’t want it every weekend. But whenever they do want it, it’s here for the community.”

Watts mentioned that the call to open a restaurant came shortly after she had just decided to move to Atlanta.

“I was getting ready to move to the Atlanta area to be closer to my grandbaby. I wanted to be able to pick him up from school. So I had a realtor at the time find me a house, and God said ‘not so. This is where I want you to be.’ And this is where I am.”

She mentioned her children were both strong encouragers.

“They really helped me through this. My son, I went to him on day two and told him. He said ‘well Mama you can do it. The only thing I can say is be consistent. If you say you are going to be open, be open.’

My daughter said ‘Mama, just do it. If you want to do it, don’t be scared, just do it. Don’t be afraid, if God told you to do it, just do it.’”

Despite her fears, she went ahead and opened Papa & Mama Chat’s.

“I stepped out on fear and by the grace of God this is what happened.”

Bernice Watts ended with a message to her patrons.

“Thanks for coming to see me at Papa and Mama Chat’s Soul Food.”

Hours of operation:

Friday      6:00 – 9:00

Saturday 11:00 – 4:00

Sunday    11:00 – 4:00