Oxtails over rice, po’boys, jambalaya and chicken necks, steaks and southern-fried chicken.
Down to its toes, the Quarters Restaurant at 721 West Main St., in Auburn is a fusion, the blending of two distinct American cuisines, of N’awlins, the down-home taste of Southern-creole, and grass-roots, Midwest style cooking, with drinks served in Mason jars.
But above that, it is the blending of two distinct personalities, the realized vision of Milwaukee native Trammell Woods – everyone calls her “Chef T” – ever mellow under a perpetually-worn Green Bay Packers cap, a collector of antiques; and the more outspoken of the two, her wife, Jade Woods, Louisiana born and bred, a dancer when she can spare the time.
When they met online in 2010, Jade was the owner of hair salons in Portland, Ore., and Trammell was a police officer for Homeland Security and the Port of Tacoma, who’d begun her law enforcement career more than 20 years earlier as a sheriff’s deputy in Raymond, Miss.
They didn’t know it at the time, but each was nurturing the same dream – to own, not just a restaurant, but one deep-dyed in a compassionate purpose, born of their collective experience of hardscrabble childhoods and great-hearted parents who provided for their kids, even in the toughest of times.
“One of the things we wanted to do collectively at some point our careers was to feed the homeless. The biggest thing for us was being able to feed people. I didn’t know Jade also had the vision. If you are hungry, and I can’t feed you, then what the hell am I in the restaurant business for?” said Chef T.
So, if you drop in and can’t pay much, you pay what you can, or what you think the food is worth – they won’t turn you away.
“And we mean that from the bottom of our hearts,” Jade said. “We want people to know this is a safe zone. That means everybody is welcome, gay, straight, white, black, doesn’t matter. If you’re being hurt, molested, if you’re a victim of domestic violence, whatever, you are safe here.”
“The highest purpose in this for me is to be a servant,” added Chef T. “I am not religious, but I am spiritual, and I know there is a higher power, that God works intimately in my life.”
With all of that ever in their hearts, the women launched their business at a hair salon they owned in Kent. “We were like, how are we going to get people to taste our food? We don’t want people to come to come to our home. Let’s have a customer-appreciation party once a month, and just throw down for it. We would pull everything out of the front and the middle salon, and push everything into the our space treatment room,” Chef T recalled.
“We would make it look like a dining room, it was so pretty,” Jade said. “People would come in and critique our food. We didn’t ever get any bad critiques, though. They really loved Chef’s cooking, and our fusion together worked really well.”
When the parties outgrew the salon, the couple leased a space next door.
“We didn’t have anything … sheeeesh, we had nuuhhh-thing,” Chef T recalled with a chuckle. “We just started with a hope and a prayer and a dream. We know what we like when we go out to eat somewhere, we know how we like to be treated, we know the room temperature we like.”
“We took all those things we’d experienced from other people, good and bad, and that’s what we tried to put there. We threw out all the bad stuff out to just have our good,” said Jade.
One important thing they did was cut their menu, a preposterously ambitious, starry-eyed thing, which began life about as long as the Magna Carta.
“We realized we couldn’t do everything that was on there, it was a little bit too expensive,” Chef T recalled with a wry grin. “We cut the things that had been on the menu down considerably. All of the items we have now, we once had every day, only now we have special days for specific items. A few things we took off. You can still get the same meals, but you get ‘em kinda different. We had salmon croquette sliders, but now you can only get croquettes with our brunch, which is 10 to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.”
In 2015, the couple moved their business to Auburn, where, despite numerous hardships, they’ve kept the restaurant going, never losing site of its primary purpose.
In April 2015, Jade began battling aggressive breast cancer, forcing the closure of The Quarters for six months. They reopened that November. Jade is now in remission.
“It was a real trying time,” recalled Chef T. “We lost everything, but we made it look like we hadn’t. We told ourselves just to stay positive. A month before we gave our first free Thanksgiving, we were standing in line at the Auburn Food Bank. And the people who were with us in line at the food bank were with us here for Thanksgiving.”
Why not just let it go, people asked?
“Oh, we couldn’t, that’s the difference; I pulled everything from my work,” said Jade. “We had no choice but to keep moving. To be able to rebound and be where we are at this level in three years is unheard of. A lot of people who are entrepreneurs understand – especially those people in the restaurant business – that closing and opening again within three years is not easy. And we had two little ones, Jaza and Xavier at home, 10 and 13 years old.”
“The thing that I am most proud of is we were able to open our business and have been able to sustain our business to a certain level without big financial loans. We have gotten a few loans from friends here and there, but it’s basically been just us, doin’ the grind, putting in the work,” Jade said.
Both women have roots in the South. Chef T’s grandparents are from Mississippi. Jade’s family, her father and her paternal grandparents were from Louisiana and Texas.
“So, that’s how the taste came together. We’re The Quarters, a fusion of Midwest and New Orleans. It’s the comfort food that people really want when they feel sad, and it’s really good stuff to fill their bellies,” Chef T said.
Of course, the couple have to make a living.
“Here’s how we look at it. It’s just like going to church and tithing. I don’t know if the preacher is going to use the money for his Mercedes or whatever. I can’t worry about that. If I do what I am supposed to do for people who need it in this life, I won’t have to worry about that. That’ll take care of itself.”
“We’ve had people come in, look at our menu, and sometimes they think it’s pricey, but we serve all fresh local organic stuff, and we give great portion size,” said Chef T. “There isn’t a restaurant within a 25-mile radius that serves the type of food we serve, nor offers the hospitality and customer service we offer. We offer something totally new, exquisitely delicious and affordable.”
Hours for The Quarters are: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays for brunch, and 2 to 7 p.m. for supper on those days; and 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., Monday to Friday for chicory coffee and beignets, the latter a puff pastry with powdered sugar on top.
The couple live on Muckleshoot Hill.