Chef Willie’s Woodland Beach Wave of Wings. The Town of Smyrna Tasty Tuna Salad Sandwich. The Odd Fellows Chesapeake Bay Burger. Intrigued yet? You should be because these are the types of meals one can come to expect when customers go to newly owned Odd Fellows Café on Main Street in Smyrna.
Local Chef Willie Sheppard has worked in the restaurant business for nearly four decades since he was 14 years old. This summer Sheppard finally got the chance to run his own restaurant and it almost happened by chance. While talking with a Dollar General employee about his dream, the man told Sheppard he just so happened to know a local restaurant owner looking to sell his place.
The local restaurant owner was Howard Johnson – Odd Fellows Café owner. A couple of months later Sheppard, along with three other partners, runs Odd Fellows Café.
“I started out as a busboy, and moved my way up to restaurant manager. I’ve been a bartender. I’ve done everything, which is how it’s supposed to be,” Sheppard said.
He even started a catering business in 1999.
When Sheppard spoke with Johnson and the opportunity to buy the business became a possibility, Sheppard called his partners stating this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Smyrna resident John Clark, and Gary Greenawalt and Trace Childs from Maryland are Sheppard’s partners in the venture.
Clark has known Sheppard for nine years, more or less eating at whatever restaurant Sheppard cooked at.
“I knew he wanted to own a restaurant so when an opportunity came up, I wanted to help,” Clark said.
Greenawalt and Childs have also known Sheppard from some time and wanted to help him open a restaurant. Greenawalt said so far business has done fairly well even without taking out any advertisements.
“People love the food,” Greenawalt said.
There’s a reason people love the food and may even be familiar with the food; Sheppard has cooked in the Smyrna-Dover area for quite some time.
Sheppard was previously the chef at SportZone and Celtic Pub. He helped at the Wagon Wheel as well. He worked at the Sheraton Hotel as the chef before the hotel shut down. Sheppard was already in the process of saving money to open his own restaurant when the hotel shut down; therefore, he sought out a part-time job to help raise money until his dream could be made a reality. The desire to get a part-time job is what led Sheppard to the Dollar General that one fateful day when he learned about Odd Fellows Café.
And thus far, things have gone pretty well for the new owners of Odd Fellows Café as the restaurant is busy most days.
Sheppard, who lives in town with his family, even paid homage to the town with his menu. Each menu item is named after a location or street in town including The Home Town Original “Smyrnadelphia” melt in your mouth cheesesteak and Our Show Stopping Opera House Oven Roasted Twin Pork Chops.
The menu as a whole has a little bit of everything from quesadillas, hot sandwiches, sliders, wraps, comfort food and more.
Even though it hasn’t even been a month since Sheppard and crew opened up Odd Fellows Café, there are already plans to open a second location in “Odd Fellows II.”
“Opening a restaurant is about so much more than making money. People have trusted me to cook for them. It’s taken a lot of hard work, discipline, study and use of constructive criticism from customers to be successful,” Sheppard said. “I’ve done things the same way my whole life. A lot of older chiefs have told me to do things the right way and to not cut around corners to make the finished product. I live by that philosophy. It’s the only way I know how to do it.”