Peace, Love & BBQ or Fried Shrimp. It’s the motto on Gerald’s Diner tie-dye T-shirts, the shirt Gerald Schantz is wearing when I enter his business for lunch.
I of course am wearing a T-shirt I tie-dyed myself. With so many places in Savannah to eat it’s nice to know you’ve made the right choice as soon as you open the door and go inside.
After the T-shirt the next thing that hits you is the BBQ aroma. I wanted to get right to it, I wanted to just sit down and eat. So I did.
There are no pretensions at Gerald’s. It’s a small, simple restaurant, six rectangular tables in front of large windows that let in lots of natural light.
There’s a round table for groups. No music, no waiting outside in long lines. There is wifi and there’s an un-obtrusive television.
On the table, just what’s needed: ketchup, mustard, sea salt, a black pepper grinder, a bottle of one of Gerald’s three homemade BBQ sauces and a roll of paper towels.
I sat at the counter. Gerald made my fresh squeezed lemonade to order. I had Cheesy Mac and Cheese. Fresh mashed potatoes. Tender ribs, meatloaf, collards and a biscuit.
And then I had more: honey carrots, lima beans and okra. The okra was real good. I found out too late, after I had no room left, that Gerald offers salads. Still...for dessert: from scratch, chocolate chip cookies.
He’d also let me taste the shrimp he’d cooked for his shrimp salad; Certified Wild Georgia Shrimp. Wow! I could taste the shrimp, not just the seasoning. And it wasn’t cooked to Firestone consistency.
At the end of my meal I was full and happy. The diner had delivered.
Gerald and I had met several months before and he’d invited me to lunch at his restaurant. Shortly after that I attended a WINFest concert at The Savannah Actor’s Theater and Gerald’s Chuckwagon Catering was the caterer. I had a BBQ sandwich. I liked it.
When Gerald said that the diner opened in October 2006. I was surprised. I assumed he had been in the restaurant business for years, something I’d done myself, including a brief stint as the Executive Chef at the Charthouse right here in Savannah.
Restaurant hours are long, profit margins are small. Your product is highly perishable. Finding employees can be impossible. What would drive someone to open a restaurant in Savannah?
“It’s just fun,” was his reply. I pressed. He answered: “You never know who you’re going to meet. Some days I make new friends. I like to cook.”
Gerald’s Chuckwagon has taken him as far north as New Hampshire. Family reunions, graduations, office parties, oyster roasts, he enjoys them all.
But when asked what he really wants to do Gerald replied “I want to cook for movies.” He’s cooked for Francis Ford Coppola, Nicholas Cage and Rudy Giuliani.
Recently he catered the local production of the film Sidesho: “Every day when I drove up it was like Christmas or Hanukah, everybody was excited to see ya. They knew you were bringing ‘em good food.”
It’s the catering business that for now sets the restaurant hours. That and a commitment to quality. “Weekends and nights is catering, and I can’t be two places at once,” he says.
Summer hours are 7:30ish until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday with the possibility of opening for breakfast on Saturdays in the fall. Currently Gerald’s Diner offers a great lunch special for $7.
During lunch our conversation always came around to “...bringing ‘em good food”: “If they want something that’s not on the menu and we can do it, we’ll certainly do it for them,” Gerald says. “I would die before I overcook a shrimp.”
And one of my favorites: “I’m trying to achieve a consistency of quality. The food may always be a little bit different, but it will always be good. Nothing’s gonna be over salted. Ever.”
But for me that isn’t enough. Here in haunted Savannah I expect a good ghost story. And Gerald had one, not about the restaurant, but about his previous career, making stained glass windows:
“I knew that my house on 31st Street was haunted because he was a trickster. He put a garishly wrong colored piece of stained glass into a window we were making,” he says. “There was no way on God’s green Earth that we put it there. We had to take the whole window apart and put in the right color.”
Now I really had all that I had come for.
As Gerald is learning, the Diner and the catering business are growing, changing. Gerald is proud of and enjoying it all. I think he knew all but one of his customers that day. Having regulars is a sure sign that things are being done right.
As I left he pointed to the logo and summed it all up: “It says Gerald’s Diner. It doesn’t say Dumb Ass Diner,” he laughed. And so did I.
Gerald’s Diner is at the corner of Montgomery and West Bolton streets. Call 786-4BBQ. Takeout available. Summer hours are 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. M-F; look for breakfast on Saturdays in the fall. The diner’s website is www.geraldsdiner.com. The website for Gerald Schantz’s catering business, Gerald’s Chuckwagon, is at