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Living to serve Newton County
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 James Hamm prides himself on being able to take one look at a person and being able to tell how they'll want their food.

As the owner and driving force behind the Town House Café, he's had more than four decades of experience cooking up plates of sizzling hamburgers, pork chops, Red Link sausage splits and other hearty vittles.

His mother, Ossie Hamm, who passed away in 1984, bought the diner from the previous owner more than 42 years ago and started two doors down from their present Washington Street location.

Back then, said Hamm, they had only black customers. "Now, I've learned how to feed all nationalities," he said.

Hamm and his three brothers worked in the restaurant through high school, until they got other jobs or left. Now he works there with his wife, Mattie.

Even as he sat for an interview after the lunch rush hour, the 64-year-old Oxford native kept an eye on his customers, making sure they got their dishes exactly as they wanted it.

"I'm aware of everything happening when I'm back there," said Hamm. "I might not say nothing to them." But he's always watching, he said.

Part of what makes his food so good, he said, is that it's made fresh to order.

"You can tell the difference," he said. "You can't beat it."

He's particularly proud of the potato custard, even though most of the items on the menu are from his original recipes. "People love it," he said, smiling. "I knocked them out."

The Covington institution was recently a location for Tyler Perry's "The Family that Preys," redressed as "Alice's Wing and a Prayer Diner."

Having the Café be part of a movie is nothing new for Hamm, who has seen camera crews roll into town for shows such as "In the Heat of the Night" and "Dukes of Hazzard."

"The Family that Preys," which filmed there on Thursday, was the latest movie to use the picturesque Covington institution to portray a quintessential Southern eatery.

He said he had a chance to see how a film was all put together.

When he's not working at the restaurant, Hamm, a member of White's Chapel United Methodist Church in Conyers, said he takes a vacation at least once a year to places like Florida and New York City, which he described as a busy place with people coming and going.

Hamm's sons have worked in the diner before but are now in the mattress business in Conyers. As for carrying on the Town House Café, Hamm said he'll let them decide when the time comes.

"I can't look back and say it's been bad," said Hamm. "It's been fun. I like what I do."

It's a good thing, too, he added. "The food tastes better when I feel good."