I’m at a place called “Fun Junction USA” 30 minutes south of Atlanta, being driven around the set of Sundance TV’s comic noir series Hap and Leonard in a cargo van. Chef Jim Stacy is at the wheel, wearing overalls, a conductor’s cap, orange sunglasses, and, of course, that lumberjack beard. In the back, a box of pork rinds surfs a massive pile of snacks—popcorn, Cheez-It crackers, potato chips—and nestled in the van’s passenger door is a squeeze bottle full of raw honey.
“Rolling! Rolling!” a set hand warns us. Stacy dutifully rolls up the windows.
“This is the best happy accident,” he says of his job as a craft services chef for the show. “I needed some time out of restaurant work.”
On Halloween 2013, Stacy opened Pallookaville Fine Foods in Avondale Estates. It was a place where both hipsters and families chowed down on corn dogs amid kitschy vintage toys, and it was a popular success. But after a few years, “I didn’t have deep enough pockets to make it tenable in the long run,” he says of handing over the Pallookaville concept to James Maggard and Jason Hylton, owners of Oakhurst’s Matador Cantina and Tucker’s M/Five Seven Two, in 2016. “You have to lay your ego aside and do what’s best for the brand. I’m just glad to see it still rolling.
“It’s a relief to be out of the game for the moment,” he goes on. “Atlanta’s food scene is really crowded right now, and we’re losing a lot of intown stuff like Alfredo’s. That’s really a shame.”
He’s particularly disdainful of mixed-use developments. “You get to wash yourself, go to work downstairs, and eat a burrito, all in the same building,” he scoffs. “It takes the adventure out of living, as far as I’m concerned.”
In his 50 years on earth, Stacy has sung in a punk rock band called BigTop (he hit the stage dressed as a clown), run both the Star Bar in Little Five Points and the Starlight Drive-In Theatre on Moreland Avenue, and performed with a short-lived burlesque group called the Dong Squad. “Every seven years or so, I try something new,” he says. He’s done 20 episodes of food television—Deep Fried Masters, Get Delicious!, and Offbeat Eats, among them—which earned him five Emmy awards and two appearances on Leno’s Tonight Show, where he served fried pumpkin pie and moonshine to Quentin Tarantino. Before all that, in the mid-1980s, he was student body president at Marietta’s Sprayberry High, hard as that is to square with his professional peregrinations since.
Chef Kevin Rathbun admits that his friend of eight years, whom he calls a “gentle giant,” has trouble focusing his talents—and his attention. “Stacy’s got that charismatic look, and I think he’s really good on TV. He just needs to dial in on what he wants to do.”
Now Stacy has two food-themed web series in the works—labors of love, which he hopes to sell this year to the highest bidder. One is a hybridized puppet and live- action animation show about food science that, in Stacy’s words, “is MythBusters and Mr. Wizard and Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Julia Child combined, with me hosting.” The other is a food history show.
Among Stacy’s other pursuits: shopping a neighborhood-focused reality cooking competition tentatively called Best of the Block; writing a novel about clowns and circuses; and finishing the manuscripts on six children’s books he hopes to publish, one of which is about “a ghost’s first night as a ghost, trying to find a sheet.”
In the meantime, to support his scattered projects, as well as his family, Stacy has been doing the slightly less glamorous work of cooking on film sets. “I’m getting to chef really great meals for 100 to 300 people a day,” Stacy tells me. “Look,” he says, pointing to a man walking near us, “there’s Michael K. Williams from The Wire.”
Will Stacy ever get back into the restaurant game? He’s been talking about opening a doughnut shop and a Hawaiian meat-and-three since last spring, but lately he’s sticking those back under that conductor’s cap, waiting for the right collaborators, seed money, and timing to line up. All Stacy needs for now, it seems, are fresh ingredients and the occasional fan on set. “I served Kurt Russell a while back,” he says. “He came up to the truck and said, ‘Fix me a big-ass bowl of chili, son.’ And I was like, ‘Holy shit, Snake Plissken!’ He liked it.”