May 19th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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David S. Rust is a Senior CNN Photojournalist

One of the most acclaimed steakhouses in America, Doe's Eat Place might not even have been a restaurant if it hadn't been for the devastating flood of 1927.

Located in the sleepy southern town of Greenville, Mississippi, the restaurant traces its roots to a grocery store opened by the Signa family when it moved to Greenville in 1903.

According to Charles Signa, Jr, one of four family members who co-own Doe's, the grocery store did very well until the massive Mississippi Flood of 1927.

The store was inundated with six feet of water, and Carmel Signa, the family patriarch, had to swim out of a window in what is now the kitchen of Doe's Eat Place.

The grocery store was hit hard and the business suffered. To make up for the loss, the family sought additional sources of income. One of Carmel's sons, Dominic, tried to help out by bootlegging corn whiskey for several years.
 Dominic, or "Doe' as his friends called him, eventually sold his 470-barrel still in exchange for $300 and a Model T Ford.

Around 1941 the family started to dabble in the food business. Mamie Signa, Does’ wife , started working on a recipe for hot tamales. Once the recipe was perfected she began selling them. That was the start of the restaurant.

Their neighborhood was predominantly African-American. To increase business, Doe started a honky tonk strictly for "blacks" in the front of the building providing tamales, fried fish and chili to the patrons.
 As the business in the front became more popular, "white" friends of the family would come around to the back and were treated to home cooked meals. The Signa family likened it to "segregation in reverse".

Eventually, a friend who was a doctor offered to have a meat broiler built in Memphis for Doe for free, with just one condition - that Doe would not charge him for steaks cooked on the broiler. Both men lived up to that agreement.

As the steaks became more popular, Doe shut down the honky tonk and expanded the restaurant to serve the more profitable steaks. The family kept the menu simple, and the steaks became legendary.

Today the restaurant is still located a few blocks from the levee that keeps the Mississippi River from spilling over into the town. As newspaper headlines talk about the biggest flood since 1927, the Signa family quietly goes about the business of preparing steaks for their crowded restaurant using the same stove built for "Big Doe" in 1941.

The restaurant has been recognized by many national publications and featured on the Food Network for their steaks and tamales. There are several other Doe's Eat Place in the Southern United States, including Little Rock where President Bill Clinton used to be a regular, but the Greenville location is the original and according to Charles Jr, the best.

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Filed under: Classic • Restaurants


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soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Hugh

    The one in Hot Springs is also very good, but none as good as the original.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  2. cindy

    TexAginMS

    The one in Bryan, TX closed less than a year after it opened. I lived there at the time and it was terrible. I recently moved to Greenville, MS and I can say that hands down, Doe's in Greenville is the best steak and broiled shrimp I've ever had. They don't have a menu so go with someone who's been before so you dont miss out on the good stuff!! As for the crime, there's a lot of it around that area of town but their security is armed and most of the crime is black on black crime. No one has ever had any problems at the restaurant- its safe.

    SEVERAL FOLKS HAVE POSTED CRIME IS BAD. FACE IT, G'VILLE IS A CRIME-RIDDLED AREA!

    May 23, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  3. Terre

    I was born and raised in Greenville and ate at Does many times. Best salad in the world! Love their steaks too! The quality of their hot tamales has deminished of late but they're still good. As for security, last time I ate there (it's been a while) I think I remember them having a fence around the place now. I could be mistaken. I have also eaten at the Lafayette-Broussard-New Iberia, LA location and it was good, but can't hold a candle to the original!

    May 20, 2011 at 9:32 am | Reply
  4. virginia

    does also has the best salads, gumbo and fried shrimp anywhere in the south. they have had a security guard to watch your property while in the restuarant for awhile now but most places do need security.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:34 am | Reply
  5. Dusty Wongstein

    I have family that has lived in Greenville for many years, and I've eaten at Doe's several times. It's the only place that I've ever been where it is possible to order steak by the person.

    May 19, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  6. mango455

    I just love that! Whites had to go around back!!!! I'm white..

    May 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  7. DrLarry

    I've been to the original in Greenville and the one in Little Rock. Home-owned is better.
    And Does has security at the Greenville location – you can't miss it. And Greenville is NOT crime-ridden as one ignorant poster commented.

    May 19, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  8. deanna

    thanks for doing this story, CNN! My family is from the Mississippi Delta area and this is great to see Doe's recognized.

    May 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • Neicy

      I am also from Greenville....and it is so good to see our city in the news....I live down the street from Does

      May 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  9. Jason Smith

    They opened one in Bryan, TX. It was awful. Very over priced cheap cuts of meat loaded with fat!

    May 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
    • Reece

      They don't have one in Bryan, TX according to their website.

      May 19, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Reply
      • TexAginMS

        The one in Bryan, TX closed less than a year after it opened. I lived there at the time and it was terrible. I recently moved to Greenville, MS and I can say that hands down, Doe's in Greenville is the best steak and broiled shrimp I've ever had. They don't have a menu so go with someone who's been before so you dont miss out on the good stuff!! As for the crime, there's a lot of it around that area of town but their security is armed and most of the crime is black on black crime. No one has ever had any problems at the restaurant- its safe.

        May 20, 2011 at 8:40 am | Reply
  10. cindy

    We've eaten at the Does's in Fayetteville, Arkansas many times. Wonderful food!! In fact, we've gone out of our way a couple of times just so we could eat there.

    May 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  11. cindy

    Greenville is not a "sleepy town". At one time it had a higher crime rate than Miami. If you go to Doe's don't go after dark!

    May 19, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
    • Local refutation

      You obviously are not from G'ville. It is safe to go to Does after dark. They have security and I have been going there for over 30 years. Don't try to frighten people from enjoying our town with inaccurate crime statistics of which you have not a clue.

      May 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Reply
      • cindy

        The fact that they need to provide security speaks volumes. I would never live in Greenville, but I have lived near there, and grew up in the Delta. It was widely publicized in the local news when the crime rate went above that of Miami, and NO restaurant near where I live has to provide security for its patrons.

        May 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Reply
      • cindy

        http://www.homesurfer.com/crimereports/view/crime_report.cfm?state=MS&area=Greenville

        May 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Reply
      • local refutation

        Ok...ok...so "home surfer" agrees with you...who ever they are–not a reputable statistics source in my opinion. Anyway, Does is safe after dark. I mean, I would not walk down the street alone with a wad of cash in my hand...but then, I wouldn't do that ANYWHERE. In the future, let's agree to report things based on personal experience and reputable sources or not post them at all...mmmmk, thanks. I am not aware of any incidents involving crime against patrons of this establishment in recent years.

        May 19, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
      • another local refutation

        Doe's is safe after dark.

        May 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Reply
      • cindy

        as i said i LIVED in the area. visited g'ville often...have friends who live there. they will all tell you the crime rate is awful. can't go anywhere without your car getting broken into, have to have great home security to keep your home safe. i have witnessed crap games and drug sales on my way downtown. so YES i can say from personal experience the crime rate there SUCKS!

        May 23, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  12. Sybil

    The one in Baton Rouge is terrific...I have been to the one in Greenville, except for the location the steaks were great. Going to Little Rock this weekend, might have to check it out!!

    May 19, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  13. Joe R.

    We have a Doe's in Fort Smith, AR as well. I hadn't heard of them until I moved here. I'll say this though, that was one of the best steaks I've ever had. Cool history to the place. I hadn't heard it before reading this article.

    May 19, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  14. LuAnne

    Great feature story. When I traveled to Stoneville on business, of course had to stay in Greenville. Eating at DOE'S was a highlight of the week.

    May 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Reply
    • cindy

      i did some cotton research tech work in Stoneville.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  15. Anthony

    I love good local cooking.

    Anthony Kraudelt
    4820 Rands Road
    Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302

    May 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • mike

      I'm going to send you a letter. It will be random cuss words and mean thoughts about the person I think you are. I will include $0.60 for a stamp, envelope and piece of paper for you too return cuss words and mean thoughts. You think I'm joking just wait. I'm gonna hurt the s*** out of your f****** feelings.

      May 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Reply
      • richard johnson

        you are a richard cranium enough said penis

        May 19, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
      • richard johnson

        you are an a**hole plain and simple

        May 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  16. Scrybe

    I've eaten at the Little Rock location many times. Awesome food. Great story.

    May 19, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Reply

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