Greenville, Alabama—downtown. This bakery is a no frills joint with glass deli cases and plain tables.
Help yourself to the tea. Have a seat wherever you like.
“Try the chicken salad,” says Miss Ann. “It was my husband’s recipe.”
Miss Ann is wearing a blue apron, bouncing her grandbaby on her hip. She’s standing behind the deli case, smiling.
There’s a ghost beside her. Nobody can see him. He’s tall. White-haired. He has a happy face. He wears an apron.
“Ozzie died back in two-thousand fourteen,” Miss Ann says. “He used to make every dish on our menu, this whole deli was his baby.”
The ghost nods.
Ozzie Judah. He was Greenville’s own Chicken Salad Genius. I know this because my sandwich tastes like summer lunches on a Baptist lawn. The only ingredient missing is the out-of-town Gospel quartet, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
There are newspaper clippings, hanging on the wall. They bear pictures of a white-haired man in an apron.
The ghost taps one frame, motioning for me to read it.
They all read the same, more or less: Ozzie Judah will be sorely missed.
He was a cook’s cook, a family man. A good soul. A workhorse. He spent his final years behind this deli counter, single-handedly helping his community gain weight.
To Ozzie, this place was more than a deli-bakery. It had been a childhood thing. Everyone has dreams, I guess.
Ozzie’s was pimento cheese.
“His pimento cheese recipe,” one customer says. “It’s SO good, you’ll keel over.”
“And Ozzie’s red velvet cake,” another woman says. “Christmas wasn’t Christmas without his cakes, they were incredible.”
The ghost helps keep this place running, even though he doesn’t do any cooking.
And when he’s not floating in the kitchen, he’s busy watching over his grandbabies—being guardian angel is a full-time gig.
The toddler in Miss Ann’s arms smiles. Maybe she’s smiling at him. Maybe he’s smiling at her.
“We were closed for a little while,” says Miss Ann. “Didn’t know if we’d ever reopen. Didn’t know if I’d be the same without Ozzie. He was my life.”
She did reopen. One sleepy Monday morning, Miss Ann peeled herself out of bed and fired up the ovens. She unlocked the front door and propped her “open” sign in the window.
She wondered if anyone would come. She wondered if anyone would care.
The Men’s Coffee Club cared first. They arrived at nine in the morning. Then, a handful of elderly women in pearls. More followed. Then more. It was an honest-to-goodness lunch rush.
The deli line got so long the local newspaper showed up, looking for a fire.
“There’s no way I could just let this place dwindle, die, and just walk away,” says Miss Ann. “I’m trying to make Ozzie proud.”
Proud. Well, I’m a nobody from nowhere, ma’am. And I have no right to speak for the deceased.
But you ought to see this ghost.
He’s looks so proud it hurts.
William Rogers - April 28, 2017 3:57 pm
Travel pass Greenville often. What is the name of the Bakery? Bates House of Turkey , Conuech Sasuage and now the bakery. First exist headed north has a BBQ joint that is good also.Native of Union Springs. Live in New Orleans.
Thanks for your column every day. Compare you with Rick Bragg.
Jen - June 20, 2017 12:42 pm
I found it! Camellia City Bakery & Deli. I can’t wait to try it on my way to Mobile 🙂
Jim Cameron - April 28, 2017 4:07 pm
You truly have a gift; please keep your stories coming. I’m just an old Yankee who married a Southern Girl and have spent a lot of time down there with ya-all (?sp). Even though I’m not a true Southerner, you make me feel at home.
Nancy - April 28, 2017 4:34 pm
Thank you. Your gift to your readers can’t be measured except by love and deep appreciation. Hopefully you are somehow aware of how much your words mean to souls hungry for stories of goodness, kindness, perseverance, and simplicity.
Heather - April 28, 2017 5:15 pm
Thank you for this story. I am from Dothan and knew Ann and Ozzie Judah fairly well. What a sweet tribute to a loving couple. I miss Ann. She was always so much fun. Ozzie and Ann were each other’s biggest cheerleaders. I hadn’t heard about his death until reading this.
Susie Munz - April 28, 2017 5:27 pm
Great story, Sean
Sam Hunneman - April 28, 2017 6:59 pm
Treasures come in many forms… recipes, memories, delightful blogs.
K. Coxwell - April 28, 2017 7:49 pm
I’m in Monroeville, just down the road a piece from Greenville. About 54 miles, give or take, but it sounds like this might be worth a quick lunch trip one day soon.
Kay Shope - April 28, 2017 8:23 pm
I know that ghost! He was ALWAYS smiling. And I’m sure he still is 🙂
M.A. Black - April 28, 2017 8:56 pm
Read you daily. Sometimes you make me tear up. You always make me smile?
Mary A. Bruce - April 28, 2017 9:20 pm
Just have started reading your stories. I really have enjoyed them. Did I read correctly that you are from Union Springs? Did you know the Pritchett family? I am related by marriage and always enjoyed my trips down to visit them. Will keep reading your stories as long as you keep writing them!
Mary Moon - April 29, 2017 12:19 am
Have just recently discovered your site here. Am glad I have. We speak the same language.
Susan Morrisette - April 29, 2017 5:41 am
We were friends of Ozzie and Ann while in Dothan. For a while they owned and operated the Red Owl Restaurant in Midland City. They stayed busy. Ozzie had some great dishes, one we loved was his cheese stuffed olives.
Natalie Grace Hollifield - April 29, 2017 10:51 am
Mrs. Ann is such an amazing woman. I may have never met Ozzie, but I know he had to be just as cool. I’ve thanked his ghost a time it two though, him and the good Lord, for giving me Mrs Ann. She takes everyone under her wing. She’s got a whole bunch of ‘babies’ she’s adopted into her family and I couldn’t be prouder to be one of them.
Anne Rumble - April 29, 2017 2:01 pm
I loved them and their cooking while they were in Dothan, AL…what wonderful people and I thank you for this great article.
Cheryl Richardson - April 29, 2017 4:06 pm
Ann & Ozzie Judah lived in Dothan and were friends of mine. They are so loved and missed. Ozzie and Ann had the Red Owl Restaurant in Midland City with great food. They were such a devoted team that I know it has been hard on Ann not having Ozzie by her side. Sean, I truly enjoy your writings which bring so many emotions. I must make a trip to Greenville to visit the bakery and see my sweet friend.
Heather Miller - June 20, 2017 12:23 pm
I never know if authors like comparisons, but I agree with Bill Roger’s comment: your writing style, plus love of and appreciation for ‘what makes the South the South,’ reminds me of Rick Bragg. We mean it as a true compliment. I look forward to reading your daily articles.
Deanna J - June 20, 2017 1:07 pm
Love your post!
Ben smith - June 21, 2017 1:09 am
Do not no about a ghost sounds like Dean cake House in Andalusia Al. A great place to get a cake.
Cindy Barganier - June 21, 2017 11:11 pm
How delightful. Greenville is my hometown and I love that bakery/deli. Hosted my Mama’s last birthday party there before we had to move her to Montgomery. I hear you are visiting my neighborhood at The Waters soon. Can’t wait to hear you!