Register’s New Food Destination

Photo courtesy of Kiara Griffin.

Thomas Barszcz

When looking for something to eat in southeast Georgia, there are always two reliable cuisines readily available: Southern food and barbecue. A new restaurant has joined Shane’s Rib Shack and Vandy’s Bar-B-Q among the barbecue options around Statesboro.

The restaurant, called The Painted Chef, opened in the neighboring town of Register five weeks ago.

The Painted Chef has had a line of people waiting at its doors every Saturday morning since it opened. Located on 9020 Kennedy Bridge Road, The Painted Chef was created, opened and is currently run by 2009 Georgia Southern industrial management graduate Travis “Shug” Phillips.

Phillips learned to cook for his friends and family from a young age, as he grew up on a farm in Register. It was not until his adulthood that he started cooking for large groups of people.

“I started cooking for other people about seven years ago in a local motorcycle shop. I would just cook on Sundays for all my biker friends, who would then bring their friends,” Phillips said.

From there, Phillips began doing catering jobs for his friends at their private events.

“I was cooking for free as long as people provided the food. Then, at one event, a lady came to me and said ‘you need to get paid to do this’ and gave me a $100 bill and said ‘let this be your first paid job,” Phillips said.

The weekend following this encounter, Phillips said that he went home and seriously put thought into legitimizing his craft. He created a logo, a name and a website for his catering business, and then posted the information on social media sites.

Phillips derived his business’s name from the book “The Painted Man” by Peter V. Brett. Phillips identified with the book’s main character, because, like the character, he was covered in tattoos.

It would not be long before Phillips got a response for his new catering business.

“That [Sunday] afternoon, I got my first call for my first job at the Harley Davidson [motorcycle shop] in Savannah. Since then, they’ve been my biggest customers. I’ve catered to them once a month for the past six years,” Phillips said.

Over the years, Phillips learned to hone his skills as a respected chef on his own by putting his own twist on classic southern and barbecue dishes such as shrimp and grits, chili, chicken fried chicken, ribs, brisket, hopping johns and mashed potatoes. He even makes a banana bread pudding with a whiskey-caramel topping.

His shrimp and grits have won best in the ‘Boro two years in a row and the Taste of the ‘Boro award. In 2014, Phillips put his food to the test by competing on an episode of Spike TV’s “Frankenfoods,” where one of his creations placed him third out of a hundred contestants.

“Frankenfoods” was filmed in Dallas, Texas, where Spike TV’s “Ink Master” was also filmed. The Ink Master, Oliver Peck, owned a tattoo shop in Dallas.

“I got to meet him, and I got my logo tattooed on my leg by the Ink Master. You have to be pretty confident in your logo to get it tattooed on you,” Phillips said.

Phillips does not have formal training in the kitchen, like other restaurant owners might.

“Everything I’ve learned [in a kitchen] is from trial and error. A lot of it has to do with having a palette that knows what flavors go together. For example, I know bourbon and brown sugar go good together, so that’s what I put on the ribs,” Phillips said.

It is humbling to think of “The Painted Chef” as a food destination, but that is what it was that Sunday when all of the bikers visited, Phillips said.

“To have a food destination here in Register is crazy. This is the only restaurant in Register, other than the convenience store across the street that sells Hunt Brothers’ pizza,” Phillips added.

The Painted Chef is currently only open on Saturdays from 10:45 a.m. until Phillips sells all his meat, which usually happens within four hours.

But to Phillips, it’s not about the money. He just loves cooking and loves making his customers happy.

Phillips said,“It makes me happy to see you smile. When people take a bite of my ribs, and it falls right off the bone, and they smile, that’s what makes me happy.”