Grouper and grits by the lake: Backwaters at the Landing
Published 11:30 am Saturday, April 1, 2023
If you’re looking for Southern comfort on the backwaters of Lake Harding, there’s a new spot to chow down.
With a little over a year under its belt, the Backwaters at the Landing has made a niche for itself for its made-from-scratch Southern-style food, beautiful views and family atmosphere.
Overlooking what the locals call “the backwaters” of Lake Harding in Valley, the restaurant provides a unique dining experience with staff that make everyone feel at home.
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“We’re one of two pieces of commercial property on Lake Harding, and we have a setting where you can ride your jet ski here and eat lunch or dinner. You can drive your boat or you can bring your car so it’s a little different than any other restaurant,” said co-owner Clay Gullatt. “Every seat in this restaurant has a view of Lake Harding.”
Not to be outshone, the food has had rave reviews by customers. People come from Columbus, LaGrange and Auburn to visit the Backwaters. Visitors from as far as New Jersey and New Orleans have complimented the chefs for their shrimp and grits.
“One of them was a connoisseur,” Terri Gullatt, Clay’s wife, said. “That’s all they would order when they saw it on the menu, and they said ours was the best. That was a good pat on the back.”
The owners love to recommend the Grouper sandwich, fried or grilled.
“Everything’s better fried,” said co-owner Dawn Greaney-White.
However, fans of Southern-style food can’t go wrong. The Backwaters menu is loaded with classics that are made from scratch each day from the catfish to hamburger steak to chicken and dumplings.
“That’s the beauty of I think why our food tastes really good and why it’s so much better,” Terri said. “I enjoy that I’ve learned now how to do it all.”
Clay has years of experience in the food service industry, owning several restaurants. He often told Terri he dreamed of buying the property one day, so when a ‘for sale’ sign came up, it seemed like fate.
The Gullatts bought the property with Greaney-White and her husband, David White. With the help of their children, many family members and General Manager Neal Shelton, they brought a family-like atmosphere to their new business.
“Between the four of us, David, Dawn and me and Terri, I believe we probably know 85% of the customers that come into the restaurant,” Clay said. “If we didn’t know them, we know them now.”
Clay said that Shelton has done a fabulous job helping run the restaurant. Shelton, from Memphis, has been on the staff for a year and has been a huge help to the owners. The younger waitstaff have also dedicated themselves to the restaurant.
“They will come to that window and watch them if they can see them take the first bite of whatever it is they’ve made,” Greaney-White said. “For somebody that’s 18 or 19 years old to take that much pride in what they’re doing, you don’t get that. That’s unheard of.”
The owners also recruited Greaney-White’s brother-in-law Billy Lee as the manager of the connected convenience store. With his help, they were able to put their focus on the restaurant.
Still, it hasn’t been easy starting a business on the heels of the pandemic. The restaurant has struggled to maintain enough staff. The owners made the decision to offer hybrid service, in which customers order at the counter before sitting down.
Though they planned to add lunch and breakfast service in phases, Clay said they have delayed offering breakfast to avoid stretching their staff too thin. By doing this, they can maintain the quality of service their customers deserve.
“We want our people to be waited on,” Greaney-White said. “We want them to feel like we’re taking care of them.”
“When you live in the community where you work, where you own a business, it becomes more personal to you trying to make sure that everything is perfect and as good as it can be,” Terri said.