Norman native, Ellerbe High School Class of 1970 graduate, U.S. Army veteran and master chef Donald Simmons has drawn visitors from all over the country to his restaurant, Magnolia 23, in Asheboro, using the down-home recipes from his upbringing in Richmond County.
After graduating from the former Ellerbe High, Simmons enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1971 for two years and was stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Fort Benning, Geogria, Fort Polk, Lousiiana, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as a staff sergeant. Following his service in the Army, he served in the National Reserve for four years.
Simmons earned an associate degree in maintenance from Randolph Community College, which he put to good use in his 37-year career as a battery-maintenance production supervisor for Energizer Battery.
Although he had a successful career in battery maintenance, Simmons never lost sight of his passion for cooking southern staples, such as fried chicken. Both Simmons and his wife, Doris, grew up in the Norman and Ellerbe communities, respectively, in Richmond County and learned the secrets of perfecting soul food. After his retirement from Energizer in 2009, he began catering for small groups and eventually opened up a catering hall, Magnolia on Worth Catering Hall and Services. Raving reviews of his mouth-watering, hearty southern meals led to an opportunity to open his own restaurant in downtown Asheboro later in the same year.
Using the recipes passed down from several generations for the traditional classics from both he and his wife’s families, people from every state in the country have visited Magnolia 23 to indulge in the authentic southern cuisine. Some of their most popular dishes — that are not only made from scratch, but made with love — include fried chicken, collard greens, candied yams, mac and cheese, chicken and dumplings, catfish, pintos, cornbread and so much more.
Magnolia 23 has been featured in numerous publications, including Our State, Carolina Country, and Southern Living, voted best place to eat in North Carolina by Parade Magazine, and the restaurant is known far and wide for its award-winning dishes served with true southern hospitality.
Other notable accomplishments of Simmons include owning M&S Curb Market from 1999-2001 and co-owning Gailes Funeral Home from 1991-2009.
Don and Doris Smimmons have two daughters, Crystal and Brittany, who are also very involved in the family business. Crystal, a UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University graduate, is an associate professor at the State University of New York at Geneseo. Brittany, a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, is a physician assistant, who practices in Greensboro.
Check out the Magnolia 23 in Asheboro website or, better yet, go see them and enjoy some real southern cooking and a wonderful visit with the Simmons family!
Join us today in celebrating the success of Don and the entire Simmons family and for representing Richmond County with every delicious southern dish cooked with the down-home recipes that originated in Norman!
Meghann Lambeth is executive director of the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority.
(Editor’s Note: Visit Richmond County is highlighting prominent local African Americans each day in February in honor of Black History Month. Previous individuals featured include late Richmond County sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr., late state representative Harrison Ingram Quick, dancer and makeup artist Ciarra Kelley, Ellerbe Mayor Brenda Capel, two-time Super Bowl champion Perry Williams, Bishop Arlester Simpson of Ellerbe, Richmond County School Board member Ronald Tillman, and educator Melvin Ingram. See the Visit Richmond County Facebook page for more on these outstanding individuals.)