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A Conversation with Mary Weaver of Mary’s Southern Grill

Our National Account Manger Ada Brewster chatted with Mary Weaver, owner of Mary’s Southern Grill about her restaurant and helping feed truck drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in March, grocery store shelves were being emptied faster than they could be restocked and toilet paper seemed like a valuable commodity. Truck drivers were doing everything possible to make sure those of us who sheltered at home had the necessities we needed. However, these essential drivers were having a hard time finding a meal to eat as restaurants were closing their doors, their dining rooms, and, of course, the big rigs they drive could not go through the drive-thru.

As my own travel had come to a screeching halt, and I was at home, I felt like I needed to try to do a little something to help these drivers who have been my heroes long before I ever witnessed a national crisis. So, on March 24, I called on my friend, Mary Weaver, who owns and operates Mary’s Southern Grill.

Most likely you are not familiar with this little hidden gem, and unless you have ties to the north Georgia mountains you probably are not even familiar with the town where Mary’s is located, but I will fill you in on all that shortly.

I told Mary that truck drivers were having a hard time out on the road and asked if she could help me feed some truckers. Without hesitation, she asked how many were we feeding and when do we need it to be ready to go? Out of this came our plan to take boxed meals to feed the drivers loading at Koch Foods’ poultry plant was born.

Mary, like other restaurant owners, was going through a struggle with her own business. People were afraid to go out, and a lot of restaurants had been forced to close already, not by the government, but because business had gotten so slow.  Nevertheless, Mary stepped up without thinking of the additional burden this might put on her own business. She told me, “We love our truckers, and because of them we have the food we need to operate our business.”

Giving to others has been in Mary’s blood since a very young age. At only nine-years-old she took a job in a restaurant in Millersburg, OH where she washed dishes and gave all her earnings to her mother to help the family pay bills. When she got a little older, she was able to start working as a server in the local cafe, still giving her wages to her mother.

At sixteen, in addition to working in the café, Mary would head to the bean fields where she had landed a second job hoeing beans. She was able to save the money from her second job, and when she had $80 in savings she left home for Sarasota, FL.

There was where Mary found an apartment, but she didn’t realize that in addition to rent she would need money for deposits on utilities, etc. So, she got a job in a little café making $7 per day and stayed with a relative until she had saved money for the deposits. After getting familiar with Sarasota she found a diner that served home cooked meals at lunch to the working class, and that was where she felt most comfortable and her real career in the restaurant business was born. Soon, she found herself serving the same people day after day, making friends and earning a very nice income of about $75 a day in tips (she estimates this would be about the same as $200 a day now). Mary loved her customers and they loved her.

After getting married, Mary left the restaurant business for a while, but when she found herself single again with two children to raise, she went back to doing what she knew best to provide for her family. As Mary’s two sons started getting into mischief, she figured the best way to deal with that was to put them to work. She got them jobs at the restaurant she worked at bussing tables and washing dishes. This solved the problem, but little did she know she was planting a seed for their own futures in the business.

Mary remarried, and her husband loved wonderful homecooked meals and desserts she made daily from scratch, telling her over and over she should open a restaurant of her own. He was a store manager for Publix in Sarasota, and owned a second home in Hayesville, NC. In 1995, after Hurricane Opal brought destructive winds to north Georgia and western North Carolina, the couple came on the property in North Carolina. While here they decided that his managerial experience and Mary’s knowledge of the restaurant business would be a perfect combination for a successful business in a town that needed a good place to eat.  The Country Cottage opened doors in 1995. Ten years later the business was going strong, but the couple split, and Mary came just across the Georgia line and opened Mary’s Southern Grill.

Mary’s has been in the same location since 2005, at the three-way intersection between Hiawassee, GA; Young Harris, GA and Hayesville, NC, in Towns County, Georgia. People wonder how a restaurant that seats 100 survive in a county with an entire population of under 12,000, many of whom are snowbirds that retreat to Florida during the winter months. Simply, you are hard pressed to find a person in the surrounding towns who hasn’t ate at Mary’s.

Everything on the menu is homemade from the salad dressings to the desserts.  At Mary’s you can find homemade biscuits and gravy, a hand-patted burger and fresh rainbow trout just to name a few. You always find familiar smiling faces, too. Very rarely does a server leave Mary’s, like Suzanne who has been with Mary since 1995 or like Jocelyn Byers who started out busing tables at 15 and now, at 22, is a Senior with a 4.0 average, on the President’s List at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, majoring in Marketing. Jocelyn intends to continue working at Mary’s part-time after graduation because of the relationships she had built with customers, co-workers, and Mary.

To no surprise, Mary’s sons are both also in the restaurant business now. One is working with her, managing the kitchen at Mary’s, while the other owning his own restaurant, called Sweet Onion, in Waynesville, NC.

Mary says the government shutdown earlier this year was the most stressful part of her life.  When dining rooms were ordered to close, she locked up for one week. She soon realized her business was a part of the community and she felt a duty to serve those, like the elderly patrons, who were regulars and depended on coming there every morning for breakfast or lunch. From that point on, for the next six weeks they did take out only.  Now, under the current phase of reopening, they are able seat half capacity, with servers wearing masks. Mary says without the unwavering support of the community and the help from the government for small businesses she would never have been able to reopen after the shutdown. Her motto is the more you give others, the more you are blessed in different ways.

Technology and computers are not a top priority for Mary, she prefers making delicious creations and serving others.  She doesn’t do online banking, preferring to be given a paper invoice and hand write her checks. One of the things that personally hurt her the most during the shutdown was when a vendor that she has bought supplies from every week since 1995 and thought she had relationship with, came to her on a Thursday and told her if she didn’t sign a form for automatic draft from her checking account that day her order for the following day would not be delivered.   She has a choice of a few different vendors but has had trouble finding other suppliers who offer the same quality in some of the items she buys. For example, when she tried another mayonnaise it changed the flavors of her homemade potato salad, coleslaw, and salad dressings. With that in mind she was forced to sign the agreement for automatic withdrawals.

Since the shutdown it has been difficult to be able to rely on getting everything the restaurant needs on a weekly basis. At times they have been out of potatoes, chicken, country ham, bacon, cheese, sour cream, and butter. Since everything is homemade, Mary wants the best quality in products she can find, because her customers expect a good, quality meal every time they come in. Also, important is serving produce grown in American whenever possible as the restaurant prides itself on supporting American farmers.

When I asked Mary what she has seen change the most since COVID-19, she says people are afraid of one another now. It was they were afraid of the pandemic, but now, in addition to that she has seen people fleeing cities, to find tranquility in the north Georgia mountains.  One such couple from Atlanta found Mary’s last weekend, they told her they had left their home on Friday, heading north away from the destruction and unrest because they were afraid. Then while waiting on their breakfast, the couple realized how busy the restaurant was with people waiting to be seated, and decided they were afraid to be exposed to that many people so they took their food to go. Mary’s heart went out to them, they did not feel safe in their home and they did not feel safe away from home.

The scale Mary set for cleanliness and sanitization was already above what the government required for restaurants, so that didn’t present anything new to the staff. The masks, on the other hand, are proving a little more difficult to deal with as they greet customers and take their orders.

Mary is thankful to the community, to the tourists who have found her, and the first responders. She also is grateful for the truck drivers who have kept everyone supplied with what we need.

Ada Brewster can be reached at [email protected] and by phone at 320-510-0033. This is Ada’s third piece in our conversation series. Ada has talked with Kottke Trucking drivers Laurie and Buz Scutt and also with Dan DiGrazio with Butterball.

Mary and her staff at Mary’s Southern Grill.

Step inside Mary’s Southern Grill.

The scenic views of the north Georgia mountains.

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Kottke Trucking, Inc.