Story and photos by Lenore Vickrey
Read about Larry the Hot Dog, inspired by the author’s experience at Cutts Restaurant.
If you visit Enterprise, folks will make sure two things are on your to-do list: Seeing the Boll Weevil Monument downtown and eating a meal at Cutts Restaurant.
And that’s just fine with the Cutts family, who’s owned the restaurant for more than 60 years. “So many families have grown up here, that they’ll come (back) in from Timbuktu or somewhere and they’ll call their parents and say, ‘We’ve got to go eat at Cutts,’” says Rick Cutts, who worked at the restaurant growing up, and then owned and managed it for 30 years.
His grandparents, Hubert and Pearlie Bell Cutts, along with his parents Larry and Ellen Cutts, started the business in 1967 as a country grocery in Level Plains selling chili dogs. “They came up with a chili recipe which is still a family secret,” he says. When business got too big for that location (a former Phillips 66 station), they moved it to another Phillips 66 station and expanded the menu to include hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecue sandwiches for lunch only.
They moved to the Enterprise location in 1974, “and when my grandparents got ready to retire, my daddy bought them out in 1980,” says Rick. “The original restaurant was the whole kitchen and you came in from the back door. In 1988, Daddy added this (the current restaurant dining area that has a cafeteria-type line to serve country cooking). That wall was the back door and it was just a snack bar. On Saturdays, we go back to that. It’s our retro day.”
After his dad suffered a stroke in 1991, Rick bought the restaurant from him rather than allowing anyone from outside the family to take over. “Really, never dreaming it would blow up like it has,” he says, referring to the restaurant’s huge following. He was, and still is, an independent insurance agent by trade, but he soon found himself and his family growing the restaurant over the years, adding catering for local businesses and organizations, and “it’s just become an icon in this area.”
Their motto, “A family tradition, yours and ours,” is proudly proclaimed on a sign in their dining room, where patrons start lining up for lunch at 10:30 a.m.
But the current owner and chef, Ashton Cutts, arrives way before that, starting the day’s cooking and prepping between 4:40 and 5 a.m. Ashton, Rick’s nephew, bought the restaurant from his uncle in April 2021. After 30 years, Rick was ready to retire and wanted to keep it in the family. His nephew, who’d worked in the restaurant growing up as did many of the Cutts children, was the ideal choice. “I’ve been extremely proud of him,” says Rick. “He grew up cooking with my mother who was the best cook in the world.”
Ashton, who’d retired from the Army and earned degrees in HVAC and building trades, was eager to take the job. “I started cooking with my dad, hanging out in the kitchen with my grandmother,” he recalls. Most of the recipes are hers, including those for the restaurant’s dressing, mashed potatoes, barbecue sauce, and of course, the famous chili dog sauce.
“The way we cook the turnips, butter beans and all the vegetables was how she did it,” Rick adds. And that means from scratch (no instant potatoes) and dessert pies handmade by a family member who’s been baking them every morning for 40 years.
The country cooking fare features 14 vegetables and four meats, Monday through Friday. Each day is something different, from spaghetti to pork chops to brisket, but the mainstays that are always available are barbecue, chicken fingers and fried chicken. Veggies include black-eyed peas, creamed corn, loaded potato casserole, brussels sprouts, butter beans, macaroni and cheese, turnip greens and more. In a week, they’ll feed 3,500 people or about 4,000 meals.
Don’t want a full plate? Head to the front counter and order from the short order menu of chili dogs, burgers, wraps and Ashton’s specialty, the Alabama Lobster Roll.
“There’s no lobster in it,” says Ashton, chuckling. “It’s barbecue on a hot dog bun, covered in cheese, pickles, coleslaw and both barbecue sauces.” He created the dish when a TV news crew asked him to make them something special “and it was the only thing I could think of.” The name was in honor of a friend from up north.
Famous all over
Cutts gets a lot of traffic from families headed to the Gulf Coast beaches, many of whom see the positive reviews on Trip Advisor. “A lot of people have a tradition to stop here on the way to the beach,” Ashton says. “They buy the merchandise and see what new things we’ve got. I ship barbecue sauce and the hats everywhere. I’ve shipped chili dogs – hot dogs, the sauce, buns and all – to Alaska, and barbecue sauce to a hockey player in Canada, with hats and pepper sauce.” A man in Arizona ordered 32 bottles of barbecue sauce, and a few months later he wanted more, so he drove to Enterprise to buy them.
The chili dog landed Cutts on the State Tourism Department’s list of “100 Dishes to Eat” in Alabama.
In addition to running the restaurant, Ashton stays busy with the catering business and can feed up to 300 people. At Thanksgiving time, they sell between 500 and 700 half gallons of their famous dressing so customers can bake it in their own kitchens, along with turkey breast and ham.
During the Covid shutdown, the restaurant was closed only 2 weeks, and then ran a homemade drive-through for take-out orders out of their back door, Rick says. “We had a tent set up, Ashton manned the tent and rang ‘em up right there. It was hard but we got through it.”
The Cutts name grabs attention, even hundreds of miles away. Several years ago, Rick was wearing his Cutts cap while vacationing in San Francisco. A man kept looking at him, and finally came up to him and asked, “Are you familiar with that restaurant? I’ve eaten there several times.” Rick told him yes, he was the owner. Turns out the man was an Atlanta-based clothing salesman who called on a customer in downtown Enterprise who would bring him to Cutts when he was in town.
Ashton got the same reaction in Birmingham earlier this year at a hotel bar. “A guy sitting next to me started telling people from Chicago I was famous,” he said, smiling. Misti Cutts Dixon, Rick’s daughter, recently returned from Disneyworld where her husband wore his Cutts cap. “We were on the Disney bus and a lady sitting in front of us asked us if we were familiar with the restaurant,” she says. The lady turned out to be from Troy.
Small world, yes. But one that Cutts is happy to be a part of. “The restaurant has become part of the community,” says Rick. “We’re extremely blessed for it to be that way.”
417 E. Lee St. Enterprise, AL 36330
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday;
10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Online: cuttsrestaurant.com and on Facebook