Sam Meadows: Hospitality at Ollie Irene
Words & Photos by Caleb Chancey
Sam Meadows knows what you want. After he approaches your table to greet you, he takes your drink order and begins working his way through the night’s specials. He explains the ingredients in each dish and the technique by which each is prepared. He finally arrives at the entree (Ricotta Gnocchi), and pauses. He puts his notebook down, looks you in the eye, and says, “You will want this.” Sam knows what you want.
It has been said that you don’t know how much you love something until it’s gone. In the days before Ollie Irene closed its doors in 2016, the people of Birmingham waited in line for hours to order pok-pok chicken wings, boudin balls, or off-menu burgers just one last time. Some patrons stayed until two in the morning, buying the staff drinks, giving toasts, and saying another last goodbye to this beloved Southern restaurant.
Then, eight months later, rumors of a reopening started to spread. Three miles from the original location, a shop window was covered in brown paper telling pedestrians that something was “Coming Soon.” On October 3, 2017, Ollie Irene reopened its doors.
Sam approaches your table.
“Welcome back. You’re going to want to get the fish.”