Glencoe’s Big Chief expands downtown

October 2, 2020 chris
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Pictured above, Glencoe Big Chief owners Shane (left) and Angela (right) Stephens stand in their new downtown Gadsden restaurant location. The Downtown Chief will occupy the former Rail Public House building, located at 210 Locust Street in Gadsden.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

An iconic Glencoe restaurant is expanding to downtown Gadsden.

As The Rail Public House leaves Locust Street in downtown Gadsden, Big Chief moves in behind them, developing an exciting new twist on a beloved Etowah County eatery. 

When Angela Stephens retired from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office three years ago, she found herself itching for a new adventure. As an avid entertainer who harbors a passion for cooking, Angela pondered channeling her love for hosting parties and serving delicious meals into something more. While she had discussed purchasing a food truck with her husband Shane, when he arrived home one day and told her Big Chief Drive-In was for sale, an irresistible opportunity fell into her lap. She found her food truck…and more.

When the Stephens initially adopted Big Chief, they stepped into a world of possibility. Though Angela possessed a background in restaurant management, she confessed that she and Shane were overwhelmed with business from the moment they opened as the new owners. With only five employees at the time and a flood of hungry and excited customers gushing to the diner, the Stephens learned quickly how to uphold balance and create a successful restaurant. Since the Stephens’ first day as restaurant owners, Big Chief has flourished – growing from those five original employees to a staff of 22 dedicated workers.

“In that little bitty A-framed building, we have 22 of absolutely the most amazing kids,” said Angela. “They are our backbone. I always refer to them as ‘them dern kids,’ because they’re just like my own [children]. We only have one [child] of our own, but we’re truly so close-knit. They have to be thick-skinned to work for me because I treat them just like my own, but they know we have standards and I try to teach them. We laugh, and we have so much fun. We have to, or we’d cry all day because we’re so busy!”

Angela and Shane act as the mom and dad of their work family, creating a welcoming atmosphere for their employees and customers alike. As two individuals who believe in the importance of remaining involved and hands-on with their business, Angela and Shane make an unstoppable pair. While balancing a work and personal relationship is not always a simple task, the two channel their strengths into their projects and tackle challenges together as they arise.

Angela describes herself as loud and full of laughter. While Shane shares her jovial and personable nature, Angela noted he would prefer to sit and watch as she joked. The two have everything in common, and their similarities serve as a conjoined strength.

“You have to have that special bond and relationship to be able to work with your spouse every day,” said Angela. “Normally when we come home, we leave the restaurant there until the next morning or the next day. We try to make home life home. We balance it out. There are a lot of times when he goes and I don’t, or I go and he doesn’t, and then we’re there together. [When we’re there together] he stays on his side of the kitchen and I stay on mine! But we truly are each other’s person…we’re good together.”

Though Shane and Angela were discussing developing a sit-down restaurant during the past year, they had yet to find the perfect location for their latest idea to manifest. That is, until The Rail Public House announced its move to Broad Street.

Located at 210 Locust Street and connected to the popular 210 at the Tracks entertainment venue, The Rail Public House’s former building is large and welcoming, with warm exposed brick walls, high industrial ceilings and the space for outdoor seating. Though several others were interested in the building, the Stephens threw their name into the hat. Before long, they were met with the exciting news that the location was theirs.

“I always wanted to be downtown,” said Angela. “With all the new renovations, downtown Gadsden is just such a cool area and it’s so nice. From the first time I ever walked in there [The Rail Public House building], it was just the coolest place ever – it just gives you that vibe when you walk in.”

While plunging into a new business venture can prove challenging in itself, Angela noted that the single-handed most difficult decision they made was choosing the new restaurant’s name.

“We thought we had to have a name that was so cool, because when you walk into The Rail it’s such a cool place itself,” said Angela. “That building is so perfect. But once everyone found out we were opening up, nobody even cared about the name – everybody called it the Big Chief. Everybody named it for us.  [We thought] it just needs to be what it is. We are the Big Chief…people are going to relate [the downtown location] to us, because that’s who we are. This one is going to be called The Downtown Chief.”

The Downtown Chief will offer a delectable twist on a few signature dishes, while adding a collection of new items to its irresistible menu. Just like at the original location, the Downtown Chief’s recipes will be crafted from the freshest ingredients to create the best products. The menu will feature around 10 different appetizers, with options that range from fried green tomatoes topped with mouth-watering pimento cheese to buffalo chicken dip, to loaded mac-and-cheese and homemade Philly cheesesteak eggrolls.

All The Downtown Chief’s French fries (including its sweet potato fries) will be hand cut to accompany its famous onion rings from the Glencoe staple – serving as the perfect side to complement any main course. Visitors can choose from a plethora of appetizing and authentic hamburgers, made fresh with a special sauce to conjure up cozy feelings of jukeboxes and roller skates. If a customer feels a yearning for something other than burgers or a selection of sandwiches, they can take their pick of traditional chicken fingers and homemade salads.

“We have been keeping up with a notebook for a long time [full of menu ideas],” said Angela. “When we see something, think of something or experience something away from here, we come home and write it down. All our burgers are still going to have that Big Chief goodness, but it’s just a little different. We’ve got room [downtown]; we’ve got a huge kitchen. So, we’re able to do more.”

Before the Stephens solidified the menu, they put the food through the ultimate taste test.

“We made [food on the menu] here at the house and had everybody come taste them and tell us what they liked best,” said Shane.

While the new Downtown Chief’s selections will feature a variety of interesting and fresh options for visitors, keeping the food affordable for their customers is important to the Stephens. Angela also promised that while Big Chief is prepping for its new adventure, Glencoe’s beloved treasure is not going anywhere. From providing Glencoe High School’s concession stand with hotdogs and hamburgers for sporting events to the Rainbow City Hot Rod Club socializing in the restaurant parking lot, Big Chief’s commitment to its county is evident – and the Stephens’ appreciation for their customers is paramount.

“The Big Chief [in Glencoe] is going to be there for I hope another 57 years,” said Angela. “It’s still going to be up and running with my same crew [in Glencoe]. This is just going to be a different journey. The Glencoe community is part of our biggest success, along with the rest of the people in Etowah County. Without them, I don’t know that Shane and I would have made it. They support us in every single solitary way, and we try to give back to them [in supporting the community].We’re so grateful for all of them and for loving us the way they do…and we love them all back.”

Angela and Shane understand that good food only goes so far, but exceptional service builds unbreakable bridges. As they strive to create a pleasant space where families and friends can gather to enjoy one another, the Stephens offered insight into what they love the most about their positions.

“Getting to work with the kids and teaching them [is what I enjoy the most],” said Shane. Getting to talk to customers…just getting out, everybody likes that. Especially with the world we’re in right now, with everything going on, I get out and talk to all the customers. I just hope that we make a lot of people’s tummies happy.”

The pair shared their what they hope people gain from visiting their restaurants, and what they would like people to see when they take a seat at Big Chief.

“I hope that people can look at Shane and I and know that you don’t have to do something your whole life to be successful at it,” said Angela. “Just like us, we took a chance and we went in because we had a love for cooking and fixing for others. Restaurant work is not easy – it’s a lot of hard work. I just hope that you can know that you can get and have everything you want as long as you put your hard work into it.”

“There’s an old saying my granddaddy told me when I was a kid and I’ll never forget it to this day,” said Shane. “He told me, ‘Son, don’t ever let nobody tell you that you can’t do nothing. If you want to do it, set your mind to it and you can do it.’ That’s what we’ve done. We’ve always had a passion for cooking and making people happy.”

Angela and Shane envision the same welcoming and friendly atmosphere the original Big Chief nurtures to flourish at the downtown location. They strive to bottle that endearing hospitality up to take with them to Locust Street, creating an inviting environment enriched with laughter, warmth and fun where people feel free to return again and again.

“We’re so excited,” said Angela. “You’ve got to give out good, fresh and hot food. You need to make it a place that everybody enjoys to come. I want everybody to come and enjoy themselves and be themselves. The most important thing of all is I want you to come see me and eat with us all the time – not just sometimes. That’s a big thing with me. Even though it’s a sit-down restaurant and it’s downtown, it’s still going to be family friendly and family affordable, or just a single person affordable. It’s going to be within means to where you can come and eat with us all the time. I want [The Downtown Chief] to have that vibe where when you walk in the door, you just feel welcomed…like a home. I want it to be fun. I want laughter. I want it to be a happy place to come to.”

Just a few finishing touches remain before The Downtown Chief’s grand opening. While the Stephens plan to open as soon as possible, they anticipate welcome visitors anywhere from mid-October to November 1.