Doe’s Eat Place

DOE’S EAT PLACE – Greenville, MS
502 Nelson Street
Greenville, MS 38701
(662) 334-3315

DOE’S EAT PLACE – Oxford, MS 
400 N. Lamar Blvd. #100
Oxford, MS 38655
(662) 236-9003
CLOSED AS OF 2007

Doe’s Eat Place Located in Greenville on Nelson Street, this family-owned and operated restaurant is a cultural and culinary icon of the Mississippi Delta. Doe’s Eat Place tells the complicated story of Italian immigration, Delta foodways, and Mississippi social history. In the 1930s, the restaurant’s founder, Dominick “Doe” Signa, was working at the Greenville Air Base, where he acquired a recipe for hot tamales from an unnamed co-worker. Doe left the air base in 1941 to take over the grocery store that his father opened in 1903. And he soon began selling the hot tamales he made form this recipe to the neighborhood’s largely black clientele. Word spread and the white community came calling for Doe’s tamales, as well as traditional Italian fare such as spaghetti and meatballs. In the early days, the front of the simple wood frame house was a juke of sorts for African-Americans, while the rear of the building was where Greenville’s white community would pick up steaks and hot tamales to go. In time, more of the white community began eating their meals at a small table in the kitchen of what was still the Signa family home. Soon couches and beds gave way to tables and chairs, and Doe’s Eat Place, the restaurant, was born. Big Doe, one of twelve children, recruited his family into the business. In the late 1970s, as Big Doe’s generation aged, his sons Charles and Little Doe stepped in. Today, the Signa family is still at the helm of this legendary Delta haunt. What follows is a portrait of a place, painted by generations of family, loyal employees, and devoted customers. Together, their stories celebrate the uniqueness and significance of Doe’s Eat Place.

Interviews

Doe's Eat Place, Greenville, MS - Shug Signa

Barbara “Shug” Signa

Barbara “Shug” Signa, one of eleven children, is a native of Greenville. The Signas were neighbors and Doe’s Eat Place has been a constant of Shug’s life. During her youth, Shug’s brothers and sisters fought over who got the steak bone her parents brought home from dinner at Doe’s. Later, Shug’s mother was determined that one of her daughters marry Little Doe Signa. In 1977, Shug won Little Doe’s heart, and they walked down the aisle. She was family, but by marriage only. Doe Senior warned Little Doe about sharing the family’s hot tamale recipe. To this day Shug still doesn’t know the secret to Doe’s legendary hot tamales. That doesn’t bother her; she would rather not have to make them. Instead, she spends her time greeting customers, tossing Doe’s signature salads – made from Mamie Signa’s recipe — and maintaining the casual and funky atmosphere for which Doe’s Eat Place is known.

Charles Signa

When Charles Signa was born in 1947, his family still lived in the building that houses Doe’s Eat Place. Mamie and Doe Signa and their three children slept, ate, and entertained friends in what is now the side dining room. Eventually, the restaurant grew popular enough that the Signa family remade their living room into a restaurant dining room, and the business grew. Charles went to college but before graduating, he returned home to his father, to the family restaurant. Doe introduced him to the subtleties of the broiler and taught him the secret to those famous hot tamales. Charles has been in the kitchen ever since.

Doe's Eat Place, Greenville, MS - Clarke Reed - Longtime Customer

Clarke Reed

He became a customer at Doe’s Eat Place soon after moving from Missouri to Greenville in 1950. In the ensuing years, Reed has entertained family and friends, journalists and politicians, over steaks and fries, tamales and shrimp. When he began eating at Doe’s, he walked through the back door as the rest of white Greenville did. Today, black and white walk through the front door, past the red glow of the broiler, by steaming pots of tamales, into the dining rooms beyond. Reed is one of the regulars who put Doe’s on the map, entertaining visiting journalists who came through Mississippi in the 1960s and 70s. Of course, the food speaks for itself, as does the character of the place—character imbued by regulars like Clarke Reed.

Doe Signa, Jr.

His father had been in the business for eleven years when Dominick, Jr., Little Doe, was born in 1952. He grew up in the kitchen. His world swirled with aunts and uncles, steaks and tamales. The youngest of four, Little Doe remembers playing with his brothers and sisters and other neighborhood kids in what is now the restaurant’s side dining room. It took a while, though, before he became serious about the business. After attending Moorehead Junior College, where he played baseball, and Delta State University, where he played football, Little Doe returned to Greenville and Doe’s Eat Place. Along with his older brother Charles, he took the reigns from his father and mastered his signature recipes and techniques. Doe, Sr. passed away in 1987, but his sons still carry on the tradition that he started more than sixty years earlier. Every night, Little Doe can be found standing in the same place on the same floor, working the mammoth steak broiler, just as his father once did.

Florence Signa

Florence Signa was born in 1926 and grew up in the country just outside of Greenville. When she was a young girl, her family would travel to town, buy tamales from Doe’s, and eat them on the levee. Florence met her future husband, Frank “Jughead” Signa, Big Doe Signa’s brother, in 1947. After a few dates, she got a job frying potatoes at the restaurant, and for the next year, Frank courted her in the kitchen, through the open window that divided her potato-frying from his oyster shucking. In 1948, they married, and Florence has been a part of the place ever since. Frank passed away in 1988, just one year after his older brother Doe, but Aunt Florence is still at Doe’s Eat Place three nights a week, tossing salads and greeting the generations of customers who come for a steak and a hug from their Aunt.

Doe's Eat Place, Greenville, MS - Judy Saulter, server

Judy Saulter

Judy Saulter has worked as a waitress at Doe’s Eat Place since 1970. A native of Greenville, she enjoyed Doe’s hot tamales as a youth. So when she needed a job, she approached the Signas. Thirty-five years later, Judy is still there six nights a week, dictating the same menu of tamales, shrimp, salad and steaks that she memorized her first night on the job. When the place gets busy, and it always gets busy, Judy has a hand in a bit of everything from making salads to washing dishes. She’s even broiled a few steaks over the years. She knows every battered table top, each worn space in the floor. She feels so at home that, in 1988, she recruited her daughter, Debra, to join her as a server. Today, the Signa-Saulter family lines are blurred, and Doe’s customers are better off because of it.