FALL CLASSES are in session at historic Arnold Hall, where thousands of SCAD students are given the opportunity to expand their knowledge and explore their passions.
Amid the hustle and bustle of herding from one class to another, students require refueling of their minds and bodies.
Conveniently, Butterhead Greens Café resides directly across the street, on the corner of Brady and Bull, and has been sustaining SCAD students for years. Over time, the café’s made-to-order salads, soothing soups, gourmand sandwiches and house-made beverages captured the attention of locals as well.
This month, owners Patrick Zimmerman and Seth Musler will be celebrating the Café’s 6th year anniversary.
Year after year, Savannahians watch as businesses come and go, fleeting like leaves in the wind.
So what makes places like Butterhead Greens Café resilient and impervious to this phenomenon? First and foremost, both Zimmerman and Musler identified a need for fresh, fast, and clean food in the revitalized Starland District.
As savvy businessmen and classically trained chefs, with extensive high-end fine dining experiences, Zimmerman and Musler produced a reasonably priced menu that is as vivacious and unique as its clientele.
“Everything is made from scratch. We put a lot of love into how we make (our food),” Zimmerman says.
Zimmerman believes that another important factor in the longevity of a business is location and timing. “There are about 15,000 SCAD students, so we definitely picked this neighborhood.”
Furthermore, both owners understand the value of cultivating their business, tending to its steady growth. “We are not trying to get rich off of any one restaurant,” Musler professes.
Zimmerman concurs, “It’s a matter of growing organically”.
So what brought these two together?
From dishwashing to prep cooking, Musler spent most of his youth exposed to the restaurant business. Having to determine a degree that suited his passion, coupled with the daunting reality of college debt, caused Musler to pursue a culinary career.
After earning a degree from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, Musler ended up first in Chicago and then was beckoned to Savannah by a friend and a sous chef position. Although that job was short-term and his friend moved away, Musler stayed committed to Savannah.
In addition to cooking in various Savannah restaurants, he also did catering and consulting with an organic produce company that was owned and operated by Zimmerman. This company bought produce from local farmers and sold to local restaurants.
Yet, in a search for the picture-perfect opportunity, Zimmerman found himself moving from Savannah to Los Angeles and then from LA to Denver. It was not until he received a phone call from Musler, regarding the notion of Butterhead Greens Café, that Zimmerman ever contemplated owning his own restaurant.
Musler and Zimmerman agreed that they would evade the fine-dining route, while still utilizing their “expensive training in French culinary techniques” in an informal setting.
The black wooden, lime-green bordered, Victorian building that houses Butterhead Greens Café was once a SCAD professor’s humble convenience store. Ironically enough, Musler owned the ATM machine inside this building.
With this many students daily flooding Bull Street, Musler and Zimmerman found their niche.
A lot has changed from their first week of business, back in 2010, when the two café owners were swamped with ravenous collegiates and asking customers if they wanted a job.
Nowadays, they have the help of loyal and energetic college students that have stuck around year after year.
Still today, during a rush, each room is teeming with “chattering kids” that overflow onto the café’s sidewalks. “They want to get in and out in 5 minutes. This is a to-go business, not a sit down restaurant.”
When entering the café, I was ushered in by its bright and youthful aura. Everything from the hanging white menus mounted in lime green frames, to the white picket fence that bordered the counters, exuded the same upbeat vibe that the college aged employee’s exhibited.
The prolific use of a bright green butterhead lettuce leaf icon can be found on everything from the black booths to the handmade graphic wall designs. Additionally, repurposed coffee bags crowned the ceiling, while black and white checkered flooring spanned the dining area.
Zimmerman, the on-site manager, seeks to give the café a new and fresh appeal by yearly updating the space. This week’s newest addition is in the dining room, where local art will be on display for the viewing pleasure of this joint’s artistic patrons.
The Butterhead Greens Café, which may sound like a strictly vegan/vegetarian eatery, has a menu that caters to the palates of all its customers. For those that want a taste of home, there is a customizable grilled cheese option that can be paired with a homemade roasted tomato soup.
Then for the adventurous, there are meaty sandwiches that seem like classic combinations, but have elevated flavors like caramelized onion thyme aioli and orange saffron olive aioli. For the health conscious foodie, the build your own salad option, served with a hunk of baguette, is an appealing choice.
Zimmerman and Musler seek to locally source anything they can, such as their herbs from a local couple the Baker’s, their coffee from Perc and certain produce from the farmer’s market.
On my visit to the Butterhead Greens Café, I was famished after a long day of work. While waiting for my food, I sipped on an ice-cold cup of the house-infused water o’ day, plums and oranges.
When my food arrived, I first indulged in the Argentina, which was a grilled sandwich of tender roast beef, briny pickled onions, wilted arugula, cotija cheese and chimichurri aioli, served on a crusty baguette. This hearty hoagie was decedent, as the melted Mexican cheese cloaked the thick juicy meat. Each component was thoughtful, adding an intense depth of flavor.
Then I noshed on the Casablanca Salad of mixed greens, spinach, red onion, mint, pistachios, feta cheese, chickpeas, and avocado all tossed in a honey roasted carrot vinaigrette. It is worth noting that the house-made dressing, with flavors like cumin, turmeric, chili powder and cinnamon, set this salad apart of an everyday bowl of greens.
Lastly, I gobbled up the side dish of quinoa salad. This cold super grain, combined with tomatoes, red onion, parsley and lemon juice, tasted like I bit into Grandma’s garden.
While the location and model of Butterhead Greens Café is based upon the student on-the-go, their food is elevated enough to draw the most critical of palates. The invitingly optimistic ambiance, friendly staff and simple yet quality ingredients make it a place worth celebrating.