Off the beaten path, you’ll find Doe’s Eat Place in the Mississippi Delta. This award-winning bucket list destination attracts locals, foodies, out-of-towners, U.S. presidents, and movie stars alike! Known for its out-of-this-world steaks and famous tamales, the family-owned restaurant has been at the heart of the Delta for nearly a century.
Dominick “Big Doe” Signa started selling hot tamales in Greenville in 1941. The son of a large Italian-American family, he took over his father’s grocery store, “Papa’s Store,” which opened in 1903. Papa’s store was fully operational until 1927 when a Delta flood impacted the family business.
To make ends meet, Big Doe went into the bootlegging business. Eventually, he sold his still for $300, along with a Ford Model T, and used the funds to turn the store into a juke joint. Big Doe’s juke joint served chili and buffalo fish to the city’s Black community at that time.
The Signa family operated their business from the front of their home on Nelson Street in Greenville. Nelson Street was a popular hub for Black culture, and as rumors of the delicious food being prepared and served by the Signa family spread, white customers began flocking to Nelson Street, too. Because prohibition wasn’t repealed in Mississippi until 1966, patrons who wanted to drink alcohol simply hid it in brown paper bags.
In a reversal of segregation policies of this era, Black patrons entered the Signa family juke joint through the front door. In contrast, white customers entered through the side door into a back room. People of all ages and colors picked up to-go orders of hot tamales, steak, and spaghetti. In time, patrons began seating themselves at the small table in the Signa’s family kitchen, and soon, this beloved takeout eatery became a restaurant. The Signa family traded in their living room furniture for more tables and chairs, and within a few years, they sought the need to expand again. Big Doe hired more family members and converted the whole bottom floor of their home into an “eat place.” There was even a menu, although it was never printed.
Big Doe retired in 1974 and passed away in 1987. However, the Signa family remains at the head of the historic spot and still serves Doe’s original chili, hot tamales, steaks, spaghetti, shrimp, fries, salad, and garlic bread. Now, Big Doe’s descendants run the family eatery and cook streak on the same broiler he did as they greet customers who enter through the old honky-tonk, now a kitchen.
Things have changed since the beginning of Doe’s Eat Place, but not the hot tamale recipe; it’s been the same since 1941. Now, customers of all colors and cultures walk in the same door together and enjoy the delicious food and the same welcoming atmosphere that the Signa family has provided locals and visitors of the Delta for over 80 years.