[This column by Brian Benefield is part of the series Cobb Cuisine Culture and Community]
About twenty-five years ago, Tonya Bruce walked into the Lunch Basket on Cherokee Street to help out part-time because a friend asked her for a favor. I have been to that quaint little eatery, and it felt like walking into my Grandma’s house; small but cozy, everyone seemed to know one another, and the friendly folks in the kitchen knew their lunch order. Tonya worked there while attending college at night and became close with the owner, Mary Dale. She thought of Mary as a second mother, and while standing in line as a customer to get lunch seven years later, Mary exclaimed, “Hey Tonya, do you want to buy the place because I’m retiring soon?” Tonya jumped at the chance to become the new owner and be able to carry on Mary’s tradition of serving her community.
The Lunch Basket was so popular that she was approached to open a second location around the corner and named it Daily Bread Cafe. Bruce continued to serve up sandwiches, soups, and salads with Mary’s original recipes for eleven years until Wellstar bought the buildings, and the Lunch Basket sadly had to close. But Daily Bread is still going strong and tucked into a mid-sized office complex located at 531 Roselane Street, and she brought her very loyal customer base along. Bruce credits her family for helping her through the tough times during covid because her kids were always willing to help out at the restaurant. You can see the pride beaming on Tonya’s face when she speaks about her children; it is evident that she’s instilled an impactful work ethic in them. Tonya and her family pack provided much-needed sustenance to the local community’s healthcare workers and other essential businesses during the pandemic. She said, “This was something good that came out of a bad situation.”
Mary Dale comes in often to ensure her recipes are still the same and orders her usual, a veggie sandwich with Havarti cheese on marble rye bread. The chicken salad is the best seller, and they use only white breast meat chicken that they cook in-house for three hours, and after cooling, add lots of TLC and a few other secret ingredients, according to Bruce. Be sure and get a side of homemade broccoli, pasta, or potato salad to complete your meal. I ordered the Club sammie that day, and because I wasn’t planning to eat for several hours, her cordial daughter Abigail separately packed the lettuce, tomato, red onions, and thinly sliced cucumber, which is an excellent refreshing addition. During my lunch break, I assembled the sandwich behemoth resembling a collegiate-sized football, filling my belly with great joy. They get their vast bread selection from a local bakery twice a week, and you can choose from white, whole wheat, marble rye, and pumpernickel. My wife opted for the spinach wrap with chicken salad and said she could tell why it’s the number one selling item on the menu.
Her loyal customers, who come in every week and sometimes three times a week, motivate her to keep the standards high and provide the quality food and superior service you will get at Daily Bread Cafe. There are several large, communal tables in the place where strangers come in to eat, sit together and leave as friends. Tonya and her children-Abigail, Maddie, Makenzie, and Ethan, have helped her in countless ways to keep the DBC running smoothly over the years when she couldn’t find anyone willing or able to work.
The food they serve here sparks up nostalgia for me because it takes me back to my childhood summers in the panhandle of Florida. My Grandma Sara always had a sandwich and soup ready for my Grandad when he came home for lunch every weekday while working at St. Joe Paper Company. It wasn’t a super fancy submarine or hoagie type, but something uncomplicated, hearty, and satisfying. My Grandma made her food with love, and at Daily Bread Cafe, you can tell they add love into everything they do.
Brian Benefield is an Atlanta native born in Dekalb County, who has lived in Cobb since 2003. He has worked in Hospitality, Marketing, Real Estate, and most recently Food Tourism. Married to Cecilie Benefield for 12 blissful years. They have a dog, Miss Pickles. Hobbies are mountain biking, running, gardening, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. Member of Les Marmitions cooking club since 2016, where we cook 5-course meals with local Atlanta chefs.