By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
When Attalla’s annual Heritage Day sent droves of enthusiastic residents downtown, one family-owned restaurant’s grand opening received quite the warm welcome.
As over 2,000 people piled into 411 4th Street Northwest that October day, Bootsie’s made its debut – sparking success with every plate served.
For Jacqueline and Boot-sie Hale, family and food walk hand-in-hand. Growing up in Attalla, Jacqueline treasures fond memories of her grandmother, Frances Powell, baking fresh biscuits and gravy on Saturday morning and crafting irresistible pies from scratch. With a childhood rooted in homemade recipes, Jacqueline’s innate love for cooking inspired her lifelong dream of establishing a restaurant of her own.
“Cooking is a family experience,” said Jacqueline. “Sometimes cooking takes so long when you’re doing it homemade; it’s time you can all get in the kitchen together. Even when you’re not helping, you can sit around at the table and you laugh and have a good time. That’s a time you have with family. Everybody can say, ‘Let’s add this,’ or ‘Let’s try it this way,’ and come up with different things. It’s fun.”
When she married fellow Attalla native Bootsie, whose talent for grilling prompted requests for ribs at gatherings year-round, she shared her passion with him for something small, rooted in their hometown, where visitors feel like family.
After months of discussion and prayer, an opportunity arose, and Jacqueline’s dream soon transformed into reality.
Heritage Day marked Bootsie’s (named for the man with a gift for grilling) first appearance to the public world, a whirlwind of chaotic moments where the restaurant’s core four demonstrated their commitment and capability to weather any storm. While Jacqueline noted the ceaseless flood of customers proved a challenge for first-time restaurant owners, her family’s unified efforts rose to the occasion – their combined talents foreshadowing greater achievements to come.
Designed to differ from a typical barbeque joint, Bootsie’s menu offers guests a taste of tradition with a twist, all at an affordable price. All items on Bootsie’s menu are homemade, created fresh each day. Enticing appetizers like fried bacon wrapped pickle spears and loaded fries crowned with queso, Pico de Gallo, pulled pork and scallions – drizzled with homemade BBQ sauce and ranch dressing – join staples like ribs and hamburgers, complete with the customer’s choice of toppings. Bootsie’s pork or chicken quesadillas feature a homemade BBQ pineapple sauce, while favorites like BBQ salads and loaded baked potatoes stand alongside classic pulled pork plates and sandwiches. For the pièce de résistance, treasured family recipes for key lime and lemon meringue pies and banana pudding prove the perfect solution to any sweet tooth.
“Of course, ribs and Boston butts are going to be at every BBQ place, but we’ve tried to make sure our sides aren’t like everywhere else,” said Hale. “[For example] we don’t have cole slaw, because Bootsie likes it one way and I like it another. If we can’t agree on it, we’re not going to put it on the menu. We try to be as unique as possible with the things we serve, because we’re not in competition with anyone else. There are other great BBQ places – all locally owned – in Attalla, and that is fantastic. If you like something at one, I hope that’s where you go and get it. We don’t want to serve the same thing the same way, because we want you to have an option. But we want you to support all of them, because local business helps Attalla period.”
Jacqueline’s previous professional experience managing physician’s offices translated into her organization and operation of Bootsie’s, while her years serving in the lunchroom at Etowah High School gave her insight into food preparation beyond her home kitchen. Her two daughters, 21-year-old Maleah Johnson and 18-year-old Jada Douglas, joined Jacqueline and Bootsie at the restaurant, each bringing something special to the table. While Jacqueline and Bootsie possess no plans for passing the torch anytime soon, they feel content knowing that such a possibility would rest in Godly and independent hands.
“I’ve always wanted to own something, to be able to run it, to be a boss,” said Jada. “If I had the right people to help me, I would love to run Bootsie’s. I think part of it is because Mom [Jacqueline] has always been the manager of something, [so that inspired me] to want to be up there [like her].”
A determined perfectionist, Jada mirrors her mother Jacqueline in her specificity, and her desire for everything in the restaurant to run a certain way. A recent Etowah High School graduate who dual enrolled at Gadsden State, Jada is currently working on her Associates Degree. Her interest in business emerges in her position with Bootsie’s, as she shadows her mother, learning the intricacies of the industry.
“When I know it can be better, that’s what I expect,” said Jada, commenting on how the food’s presentation, taste and service should please each customer.
Jada’s work ethic did not diminish even during her senior prom, when the school asked that Bootsie’s cater the event. While Jacqueline was hesitant to accept the task for Jada’s sake, wanting to dedicate the day to her daughter, it was Jada who persuaded her mother to change her mind. Though Jada herself was in leadout, she saw the chance to serve her fellow classmates as a phenomenal opportunity.
“Jada helped serve and get everything ready for the prom dinner,” said Jacqueline. “She had her dress at the restaurant, and she ran her little legs off until it was time to put it on. She changed clothes, took her hair down and went to prom to be in leadout.”
Calm and unperturbed Maleah, a natural people-person, worked in the restaurant industry prior to Bootsie’s. She compared Bootsie’s to chain restaurants, pointing out the contrasting circumstances of the two. One of Maleah’s favorite aspects of Bootsie’s resides in the greater interaction she gains with customers, catching up with regulars and welcoming new faces with a smile.
“Working with a family-owned small business is way different than working for a franchise,” said Maleah. “With a family owned and operated business, you learn that people will support you. You learn that every day is a different day and that you won’t always get along with your family. You may think you will, but you won’t; which is fine, because our differences make us stronger. [Working at Bootsie’s] has been a great opportunity to grow together. Everybody here knows one another, we’re not strangers and we make more friends and family with the people who come in.”
When a family could not decide who would pray over their meal, Maleah (who was serving the table) offered to bless their food, praying for them. This moment encompassed Maleah as both a person and professional, and captured the heart of Bootsie’s – to help others, serve their community and encourage all who walk through their doors.
“I had multiple messages from people who saw this young girl (Maleah) praying for this table, for them to have dinner,” said Jacqueline. “I hope people know that when they come to Bootsie’s, if they need somebody to pray for their table, we will. If you’re having a bad day, I want you to leave and your day be better. That’s the type of thing that I think we need everywhere.”
Responsible for all the restaurant’s desserts, Maleah’s talent for baking embodies the lineage of her great-grandmother Powell, whose delectable pies bring delight with every bite. Maleah built her expertise with simple creations like cookies, brownies and cakes before Bootsie’s, where she found herself relying on Powell’s advice. At 87, Powell still happily revealed her secrets to Maleah, from sifting flour to avoid crumbling crusts to assisting with each pie’s perfection under a careful eye. Though Powell passed away in July, her memory remains alive in the love and lessons she gifted to her family, through the same kind words and priceless recipes Bootsie’s shares with others.
“Had we been working for someone, there would’ve been days and hours we would not have been able to be with [Powell] the way we needed to,” said Jacqueline, thankful that the business allowed her family greater time with Powell. “We were able to be there every day, right at the end. That’s something I will always be grateful for. We had this opportunity to be able to do so much that we wouldn’t have been able to do, had we not had the restaurant.”
From the familiar faces who frequent the restaurant to curious travelers from Texas and Tennessee, from supporting students with a safe place to visit after football games, to earning a spot on Attallaopoly, the community’s response to Bootsie’s proves profound. As Jacqueline, Bootsie, Maleah and Jada dedicate themselves to efficient service, they build relationships with guests, learning about their lives alongside their favorite meals. With its ceaseless Southern hospitality and welcoming environment, customers know when they come to Bootsie’s, they are more than an order on a ticket – they are family.
“I hope our customers gain a renewed sense of being served with love and respect,” said Jacqueline. “I enjoy the people the most – the people who come in, the people we get to see, the people we get to serve…the people we get to have conversations with that may not have had a conversation that day. I’ve had more than one comment that said you just know when you’re in that kitchen [at Bootsie’s] it’s out of love. We don’t talk about it [for ourselves], but for our customers to notice that this is a place of love…that we love our family and we love to be here and we love them…it makes us feel great. We love the community and thank them from the bottom of our hearts for allowing us to serve them.”