VALDOSTA – It is no doubt that COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, especially the restaurant industry. While many owners have unfortunately been forced to close, those that stayed open resorted to new and unique ways of operation.

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Power recognize this hurdle and commend Jessie’s Restaurant and Catering on its safe redirection by naming it a winner of the Industry Innovation Award.

“Georgia Power is proud to recognize businesses who have pivoted to find success,” said Joe Brownlee of Georgia Power.

Jessie’s has been in the Valdosta area for 22 years and is known for its eclectic menu items and laid-back atmosphere. It serves breakfast and lunch every day, Sunday brunch and provides full-service catering for a variety of events, such as weddings, office parties, proms and charity events.

Originally owned by Kim Newman, the name “Jessie’s” was inspired by her daughter. In 2009, Mikki Wills gained ownership of the restaurant and decided to keep the name. Now, Willis has brought the restaurant a long way, especially during the past year when COVID hit.

Like every other restaurant owner, Wills said she panicked and wondered how her business was going to remain open in such unprecedented times.

When asked what her initial reaction was, she replied, “Fear. Fear that we would have to shut down, fear that everything would go to waste and fear for mine and my employees’ jobs and lives.”

It did not take long to turn the fear into innovation.

Jessie’s was one of the first restaurants to offer curbside service in the community, and the response was a hit. Customers could expect the same quality of food and service from Jessie’s all delivered to them in the safety of their cars.

While Jessie’s has reopened with outdoor and socially distant seating in the dining area, patio and new event space, many customers still opt for curbside, take out or delivery.

After seeing how well received their changes were with customers, Jessie’s got even more creative and began offering “Party Packs,” which are a fun twist on to-go meals that the whole family can get involved in. Some of their favorites were Taco Tuesday and Build Your Own Pizza.

“Parents didn’t want to go to the grocery store, so we made dinner easy,” Wills said.

While the safety and convenience of parents were recognized, Wills also thought about the children.

Party Packs were not only fun to eat but gave the kids something to look forward to helping create while they were staying at home.

“Party Packs have something for everyone,” she said.

Wills said she realized how important it is to help others in the community, especially during difficult times. 

“We are all about making the community better and working together with others to help them while they’re down,” she said.

Jessie’s has been a positive light to the Valdosta community and a global pandemic did not stop them from giving to others in time of need. It offered boxed lunches for first responders and brought breakfast to other restaurants in the community who were facing similar difficulties.

“We just wanted to share our love for the community of restaurants and businesses. We are all in this together,” Wills said. “This past Easter, we fed over 70 families. We made a drive-through in front of our store and they would just sit in their cars and we would bring their meal to them.”

In addition to community service, Wills knows the value of teamwork. 

“My team is amazing, and they have stuck with me. We have all worked very hard,” she said.

Wills and the entire Jessie’s staff are looking forward to the future and for new opportunities as the holidays approach. The yearly Thanksgiving meal and Christmas party catering are still in the works, but the business is still figuring out the safest way to offer them.

Jessie’s is open for dine-in as well as outdoor dining; people can always call ahead or place orders online for pick-up or delivery. To place an order or get some more information on catering services, call (229) 247-4670, or visit 205 N. Ashley St. or www.jessiesvaldosta.com.

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