Chef Drew Buzik is best known in Vinton as the former owner and chef of the legendary Café Succotash Restaurant, located for many years on Pollard Street in Vinton— where the Red Jasmine can now be found. He is also recognized for his Café Succotash and Catering, which is located on the Vinton Farmers’ Market during warm weather months, serving gourmet sandwiches, soups, and sides.
This year he added another venture as chef for the Wednesday night dinners at Vinton Baptist Church. Buzik says his aunt, Pat Barton, who for many years headed up the Wednesday night dinners at VBC, recommended him for the job when the church was looking for a change this year. A Roanoke-area native, Buzik says he “grew up in the church” so he is serving people he has known his entire life.
Vinton Baptist Church holds the dinners each Wednesday, coordinating with the Roanoke County Public Schools schedule, beginning soon after school starts in September and ending just before school is out in May. This year the weekly attendance has averaged about 125.
Rather than the gourmet meals he features elsewhere, Buzik says he has focused on “comfort foods” in developing Wednesday night menus for the church. One recent menu on a chilly, rainy evening, featured lasagna, fresh broccoli, a garden salad, garlic bread, and a wide assortment of desserts. On another Wednesday, there was Carolina pulled pork BBQ, with Succotash cole slaw, hushpuppies, and sweet potato fries.
Menus generally feature a main entrée, sides, bread, and desserts, along with coffee, tea, and lemonade. There is always a chicken option as well. Special orders and take-out are available with advance notice.
Buzik says that the keys to his success in the food preparation business and at Vinton Baptist have been organization, knowing how to plan a menu, ordering the right ingredients, and attention to detail.
He has gotten “lots of compliments” on his meals, and says he has “enjoyed being back in a kitchen, especially a well-equipped and well-maintained kitchen like the one at VBC, and serving a large number of people. It’s a joy to work here.”
Chef Drew spends most of the day each Wednesday prepping the food. He says he prefers to work alone, where he can talk to himself and sing as he prepares the meals.
VBC Pastor Dr. Chris Monroe said, “It has been fantastic having Drew cook for us. I’m not sure what’s better, his singing in the kitchen or his food.”
The VBC Kitchen Committee comes in around 4 p.m. to assist him with plating up salads and desserts, setting up the beverages, serving from 5:15 until 6:15, and then cleaning up afterward.
Buzik said the Wednesday night dinners have fit perfectly into his schedule, as the months from September until May are generally a slow time of year, other than the holidays.
He describes himself as “self-taught.” He comes from a family of great cooks, not just his aunt, but his mother, brother, and sister. He says that he cooked before he could talk and always loved cooking more than playing outside as a child.
His professional cooking career began in 1990 in Raleigh, N.C., at the Humble Pie Restaurant. His family had relocated there in 1977 when he was a teenager. He says Humble Pie was on the cutting edge of the restaurant scene “using seasonal and locally grown, top-quality ingredients and hands-on preparation techniques,” and set his course as a chef.
He moved on to Flamingo’s Restaurant in Raleigh, winning local awards, notably “the Triangle’s Best Crab Cakes.”
In 1992 he took a position as the executive chef at the acclaimed Doe Run Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Patrick County, overseeing the resort and conference center food and beverage operation for six years.
He then returned home to Roanoke, where he, his mother, and sister, opened the successful and regionally renowned Café Succotash in Vinton in 1999 where they remained in business until 2004. He was named “Best Chef in Roanoke” by City Magazine for three consecutive years.
He began a career with Kroger in 2004, working in several locations, including Charlottesville, Smith Mountain Lake, and Roanoke. He was the primary chef at Kroger’s Cave Spring Corner location for almost six years before moving to Kroger’s catering store in Bonsack in 2011.
In March 2015 Buzik left Kroger to start his own catering and food vending service— Succotash Fine Foods and Catering. Last summer, he served lunch several days each week at the Vinton Farmers’ Market Pavilion, with menus that included his popular homemade chicken salad, pimento cheese, and egg salad, Cuban sandwiches, sides, and small dessert items.
Succotash Fine Foods provides boxed lunches, corporate breakfasts, and catering services for a wide variety of clients and occasions as well.
“Whatever you need I’ll do– custom made, unusual requests, smaller requests, I’m the one to call,” Buzik said.
He said he has around 30 regular customers, with four to 10 calling each day for personalized (and delivered) meals from all over the area. His menus are posted daily on his Succotash Fine Foods and Catering Facebook page and included entrees like shrimp and ham covered grits, his famous salmon and crab cakes, and his delicious soups, such as potato/corn/cheddar chowder.
Buzik continues to focus on local, fresh ingredients, and in the summer his stepfather, Dick Ingram, provides “tons of vegetables from his garden.” He said Ingram has a “great green thumb and knows how to get the most out of his land.”
He can also be found catering at local breweries such as Vinton’s own Twin Creeks, and at Big Lick Brewery in Roanoke. Buzik said he most enjoys the visibility of working in Vinton.
“I am happy to see young people coming out to socialize in Vinton at Twin Creeks instead of driving into Roanoke,” he noted.
Buzik has some innovative ideas for dining opportunities at the Farmers’ Market once warm weather returns. The town is planning some upgrades to the Pavilion area that will enhance the possibilities.
His mother, Becky Ingram, said he has had “a really good response at Vinton Baptist.”
“It’s such a good ministry and brings in a bigger audience for Wednesday night seminars,” said Ingram. “Drew has such a strong aptitude for cooking. His food is not only good, he pays attention to presentation. And he’s persnickety about little things like serving cold foods cold, hot foods hot. And besides that, people like him. He never takes himself too seriously and he’s fun to be with.”
The charge for Wednesday night dinners is $6 for adults, and $5 for children ages 4-12. Children under age 4 eat for free. There is a cap of $18 per family living in the same household.
Just call the Vinton Baptist Church office at 343-7685 or sign up using the church website (www.vintonbaptistchurch.org) by noon on Tuesday to make a reservation.
You need not be a member of the church to attend Wednesday night dinners. Buzik says that he has Café Succotash restaurant customers from years ago who now come to the VBC dinners.