Shelby Adams originally thought he wanted to be a doctor when he graduated Mountain Brook High School in 1995 and went to Baylor University.
But during his second year at Baylor, he took a two-week training course on how to cook so he could cook for himself and discovered he really enjoyed it.
Thus began a career shift that brought him back to Birmingham and more recently to Hoover to launch his own restaurant.
Adams opened Hometown Fare in August in a 1,500-square-foot spot in the Ross Bridge Village Center, next to Ross Bridge Medical Center.
The fast-casual restaurant features seasonal American cuisine and, thanks to COVID-19, doubles as a gourmet meals-to-go service.
Starting a new restaurant in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t easy, so Adams has learned to improvise and go with the flow. His restaurant currently seats 25 people inside (with room to add more once COVID-19 settles down), plus 16 on the outdoor patio. But he didn’t even use the tables and chairs the first few weeks he was open, he said.
Instead, he focused on the meals-made-to-go business. The biggest seller among take-home options thus far has been chicken pot pie, but he also does dishes such as lasagna, enchiladas, soups, coq au vin (a French red wine-braised chicken dish), and porchetta (roasted pork with apple barbecue sauce, served with gouda grits and collard greens).
Hometown Fare is open Tuesday through Saturday, serving grab-and-go breakfast items from 7 to 10 a.m. and soups, salads and sandwiches until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday.
Adams said he changes at least three items on his menu each week, depending on what fresh fruits and vegetables are in season and available.
His breakfast items run about $3.50 to $5, while lunch is typically $10 to $12 and take-home dinners for a family of four run $25 to $40, depending on the dish, he said.
Adams also offers private cooking demonstration parties, where people can sit at the chef’s counter (which seats eight people), watch him cook and listen to him explain what he’s doing. Those start at about $75 per person, depending on the menu selection.
Adams is involved in the cooking but had about eight employees in mid-October, with at least three or four people helping him in the restaurant each shift. Still, he has been working 12-17 hours per day, he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has actually given him a chance to start slowly and get his legs under him before it gets too busy, he said. “We’re still learning every day, trying to get a consistent product.”
Adams got his interest in the culinary scene honestly. His mother served many years as the executive foods editor at Southern Living magazine.
Once Adams determined he wanted to try cooking as a profession, his parents had him come back to Birmingham and get a job in a restaurant before going to culinary school.
Chef Chris Hastings hired him to work at Hot & Hot Fish Club. He worked in the kitchen about two years, then went to Scottsdale Culinary School in Scottsdale, Arizona. He graduated there in 2001 and went to work at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans before coming back to Birmingham and working in restaurants such as Bottega and Highlands Bar & Grill.
In 2009, Adams decided to go into business for himself and opened a bakery called Icing on the Cookie in Homewood. He ran that for 10 years but sold the business in October 2019 so he could open Hometown Fare in Ross Bridge.
He chose Ross Bridge because that’s where he, his wife and their 9-year-old and 5-year-old twins live.
“We just really love this community and thought they needed another option,” he said.