This article appears in the September 2018 issue of 400 Life magazine.
It can feel sometimes like every restaurant calling itself farm-to-table has a checklist of needs to both keep up with the current trends and make it feel authentic, like chalkboards, a barrel or two and drinks served out of mason jars.
But for the Fagan family and Fagan’s Biscuit Barn on Peachtree Parkway, the food speaks for itself and farm-to-table is more of a family tradition than a popular trend. The Fagans are one of Forsyth County’s oldest families and cook classics, like chicken and dumplings, country-fried steak and gravy and, of course, biscuits, like grandma used to make.
In fact, they’re still using her recipes, along with some other classics.
“When we started, we were thinking biscuits and burgers, that kind of thing,” said co-owner Martha Quintana. “It was like, well, what can we add to that? We just basically added what we knew, which is Southern cooking, and we used mostly our grandmothers’ recipes, we mostly used our church cookbook recipes and Deana [Fagan’s] developed some recipes along the way that fall into that same type of food.”
In 2006, Quintana opened the restaurant with Deana, her sister-in-law, though the family history in Forsyth County goes back even further.
“Our ancestors actually settled here in 1828, and they came from North Carolina. We’ve always been curious why did they stop here,” she said.
That date doesn’t just make the Fagans one of the oldest families in Forsyth County it means they were already here when the county was founded in 1832.
In fact, the family has been on the same tract of land as the restaurant for generations.
“They were actually able to claim about 4,000 acres of land that started here where we are and went all the way up to Hwy. 9 on both sides of the road,” Quintana said.
Since the early 1900s, the immediate area around the restaurant has had a Fagan family business: first, a general store operated by Quintana’s grandfather, Avery Carlton “A.C.” Fagan in the 1920s, then in the 1950s a convenience store ran by her father, Bill Fagan Sr., known for its biscuits and burgers.
“We were like, ‘we really want to keep something alive here. We want to keep the Fagan legacy of having a business here in this particular area,’” Quintana said.
So, in 2006, the biscuit barn opened in a Forsyth that had seen unprecedented growth and apparently brought with it lots of new families hungry for real Southern food.
“The first day, we knew we were in trouble because we opened up at the cash register and the line went all the way to the grass,” Quintana said. “My husband, at 2 o’clock when we closed, actually had to stand in the drive-thru to stop people from coming through.”
The store remained popular and expanded to its current size in 2009. The expanded space means they can hold more than just diners.
“I think this has also helped to have that community feel,” Fagan said. “We have lots of groups meet. We have some Bible studies in the morning, we’ll have some mens’ groups during the day; we’ve got quite a few groups that meet.”
Fagan said the meals are typical of what they would serve their family, and the family was “pretty surprised” to find out how much the food resonated with the community, even getting arguably the highest compliment in Southern cooking.
“We hear a lot, ‘Oh, this tastes like my grandmother’s,’” Fagan said. “There’s no greater compliment than ‘it tastes like my grandmother’s.’ We take great respect in that.”
While staying true to the classics, Fagan said there are some updates, such as meals for those with food allergies and some to keep up with changing tastes. “I think folks’ flavor profile change a little bit over time,” she said. “For instance, we developed a breakfast burrito. I mean, that’s not something that my grandparents ate, but it is something that is very popular, especially with drive-thru and takeout customers. But, it still has a Southern flair to it because we use our sausage in it, but we’re also using green chiles.”
Those green chiles, like many of the vegetables at Fagan’s, come from a two-acre family farm less than a mile away, which was plowed by Bill Fagan Jr., Fagan’s husband and Quintana’s brother.
The farm now grows tomatoes, watermelon, okra, squash, zucchini, peppers, corn and more. The restaurant’s porch is also home at times to a farmer’s market, even if not all customers were used to fresh-grown food.
“We had some customers, especially last year, that said, ‘How do you get the corn out?’” Fagan said. “Because they had never seen it.”
In the dozen years, the business has been a family endeavor with Fagan’s kids currently handling the farming and landscaping, “anything with a tractor.” Quintana said her kids also worked in the restaurant in high school and college.
That family has grown over the years as regular customers have frequented the restaurant.
Laurie Ellis said she has been eating at Fagan’s for about 10 years and has been a frequent customer, especially when she worked nearby.
“Our office was down the street, but I would eat here probably three out of the five days,” she said. “They have a great variety of food, and if there’s something that you don’t want for their daily specials, they always have two specials a day.”
Fagan said some customers are there so frequently, employees will check on them if they don’t come in or ask her to sit with them if the customer is having a bad day.
“We have dozens of folks who come every day for breakfast, then they come back after that for lunch,” Fagan said. “We have the most loyal customers and they’re awesome.”
“...to be almost family,” Quintana added. “If they don’t come in, we get worried.”