Operation Success: Donna’s Old Town Cafe (Madisonville, Tenn.)

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Donna’s Old Town Cafe, operation success, Melissa and her staff members celebrate
Donna and Melissa run Donna’s Old Town Cafe as a family business

Biscuits are a big deal at Donna’s Old Town Café, a family-run business that has been a local institution in Madisonville for 30 years. No matter what time of day you arrive, you will find biscuits on the buffet, biscuits on the full-service menu and biscuits in many of the restaurant’s most popular options. If you’re lucky, you’ll even find the signature dessert featuring Pillsbury biscuits topped with Chocolate Gravy.

Known for its homestyle cooking and legendary buffets served with a side of Southern hospitality, Donna’s Old Town Café is run by Melissa Graves, our Easy Does It Sweepstakes Winner, who manages the restaurant alongside her mom, Donna (the operation’s namesake pictured at left). Making it a three-generation family affair, Melissa’s daughter Sophia works there as well.

Donna’s Old Town Cafe buffet with General Mills Pillsbury biscuits

A staple throughout the day and throughout the years

Donna’s has relied on Pillsbury Southern Style biscuits over the past three decades, using them as a staple on their daily buffets, which represent 80 percent of their business, and on the menu where they can be ordered as a side or bread item. Melissa turned to Pillsbury biscuits—she uses about a case a day on weekdays, particularly when they feature their “breakfast for dinner” buffet, and a couple cases each Saturday and Sunday—to save significant prep time while still delighting diners.

Melissa, owner of Donna’s Old Town Cafe in front of her buffet with staff

Melissa particularly appreciates the ease and convenience of the freezer-to-oven biscuits: “With the current labor shortages, we simply cannot make everything from scratch. We make almost everything here, but if we can find a shortcut that will give us great results without sacrificing quality, that gives us more time to focus on other menu items or other parts of running our business,” she said. “If somebody else can make an item better, that’s one less thing I have to worry about. These biscuits are just so easy and turn out great every time. You can’t beat them.”

Pillsbury Southern Style biscuits are pre-portioned and formulated to produce light and fully 2.2-ounce biscuits with a rich, buttery flavor and scratch-like texture and appearance. Melissa says her customers would be “shocked if they knew we didn’t make the biscuits from scratch.”

Donna’s Old Town Cafe chalk board menu out front of the restaurant

The simple reason for success

Why are biscuits so popular with their customers? “It’s my core belief that food feeds your soul. Growing up, our happiest memories are often tied to the foods we ate as kids,” adds Melissa, remembering a big pan of biscuits coming out of the oven. “Biscuits are so versatile and can be used for snacks, meals and desserts.”

In addition to the Pillsbury biscuits topped with Chocolate Gravy (Melissa generously shares her famous recipe below), Melissa uses any leftover biscuits (that is, if they are lucky enough to have any) to make the restaurant’s popular bread pudding, which is always a hit with her customers. Apple butter on top of biscuits is another fan favorite.

Melissa adds that biscuits are an integral part of her menu. They are an essential item for the loyal customers who regularly dine at Donna’s Old Town, which is known throughout the region for its hospitality, service and cleanliness.

Melissa, owner of Donna’s Old Town Cafe, makes her special chocolate Gravy

Beyond the General Mills’ sweepstakes, Melissa and her team recently won another contest: They have advanced in the World Food Championship taking place in Texas in November with an entry in the “steak” category. And thanks to flurry of local press from her recent contest participation, Melissa will be the Grand Marshal in her community’s Christmas parade this year.

Ultimately, this family restaurant satisfies and delights a lot of families in the area who just can’t get enough of those flaky biscuits.