Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay
You’ll find some real sweet stuff at Miss Amber’s Cafe in downtown Wedowee: rich peanut butter cake, strawberry-lemon cupcakes, cinnamon-laced monkey bites and tart key lime pie. There’s even a saccharine note in the chicken salad.
But the sweetness isn’t confined to the food. It’s also floating in the air as Amber Conger, the restaurant’s namesake and owner, sprinkles “Hi, Suga!” and drizzles “Sure, Honey!” into her interactions with every diner through the door. Plus, as Amber explains, the little eatery’s got a pretty sweet origin story too.
“This spot was a coffee shop for 13 years, and then, in December 2016, it kinda landed in my lap,” Amber says. She spent a decade working at another local restaurant and then a few years running a barbecue joint out of the town’s Exxon station when the owner said he was going to close. “I got that news just a few days before I got a call from the lady who had the coffee shop. Her husband had died, and she was ready to pursue something different, so she asked if I wanted to take over the space. I believe the Lord did that,” Amber says.
She said yes and reopened the space as Miss Amber’s Café in January 2017. From day one, family has combined with Amber’s sweet, friendly ways to form the foundation for the café’s success. Her son, daughter and her best friend of 20 years (who’s basically family) run Miss Amber’s with her. It’s just the four of them comprising a team that Amber calls “a blessing.”
A couple of years after opening, Amber’s daughter Brittany Olvey, nicknamed Toot, pushed her mom to expand the café’s original menu. Today, the café serves a wide range of American and specifically Southern classics. There are beefy burgers, like the Big Green Machine layered with provolone, bacon and a fried green tomato. There’s a long list of sandwiches, including a hot fried bologna and cheese and a fried chicken sandwich. The hot dogs, like the Hot Diggity bacon-wrapped weenie with pimento cheese and jalapenos, are always hits. And a weekly special on Thursdays, the Trio Sampler plate, includes Miss Amber’s chicken salad, with its finely shredded meat, a hint of mayo, some sweet pickle relish and another sweet, but secret, ingredient, alongside tangy pasta salad and a giggly square of the fruity-yet-salty strawberry-pretzel salad.
Then, Toot took things farther, with the addition of Toot’s Sweets at Miss Amber’s, her line of fresh-made desserts and treats, including all the aforementioned sweets, plus her most popular delight, red velvet cake, that are always available at the café.
Miss Amber’s also offers meals to-go, a move made during the pandemic and restaurant shutdowns. “When COVID hit, we came up with the idea to do hot meals for pick up at dinnertime,” Amber says. “We would not have survived without that, but it just took off, so we kept at it.”
She examined sales figures, found the best-selling selections and turned them into freezer meals that anyone can grab to take home. “We’ve got breakfast casserole, meatloaf, buffalo chicken over fire-roasted potatoes and more,” Amber says. In all, there are about 20 different dishes that rotate throughout the week. Last year, Amber estimates she sold more than 2,500 meals in her tiny town.
In every bite, family again plays a key role, with multiple family recipes appearing in the freezer cases and on the menu, including Maw Maw’s dressing and a macaroni casserole Amber vividly remembers her mother making and taking to every family function.
A family function is a good description of lunchtime at Miss Amber’s, where regulars, including residents and weekend visitors to Lake Wedowee, are rewarded for their loyalty by being treated like aunts, cousins and brothers. “I know them by name, know what they want to drink,” Amber says. “I love seeing them and chatting and babying the kids that come in.”
And while diners choose from what’s offered, family gets what it wants, so when folks begged Amber to continue a breakfast bar that she’d tried out on a few Saturdays, she obliged. “They loved it,” she says. The bar is built around Maw Maw’s cathead biscuits, and the line begins forming well before 9 a.m. when Miss Amber’s opens for the morning meal.
The big biscuits are another of the café’s signature items, and many a morning, Amber turns up her kitchen radio and rolls out eight or nine dozen, each of which gets a little love pat before going in the oven. “Sometimes, you can still see indentions of my fingers on the top,” she says. “I get in a groove and really enjoy making them.”
Amber does not enjoy paperwork, so Toot steps in to handle the business side of the business. “I’m the drill sergeant in the back,” Toot says with a laugh.
The sweet spirit at Miss Amber’s is also evident in her cheery, colorful décor dominated by messages proclaiming peace and kindness and art created by locals that enliven the 130-year-old building. Three wooden planks emblazoned with college football teams hang high and point to Amber’s allegiance, but also, her desire to satisfy her customers.
“I’m originally from Georgia, and I’m a huge Georgia fan, but I put Auburn and Alabama on the wall, too, for my regulars,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s all about them. That’s why I’m here. I just want to feed my community and work alongside my kids.”
Miss Amber’s Café & Toot’s Sweets
15 Main Street South
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.