Southerners love our food. We love eating it, reading about it, talking about it, and especially serving it to our friends and family. And when the restaurant business gets in your blood at a young age, turning it into a successful career just makes sense. The Source Advisory Panel member Jennifer Emerson grew up loving her aunt and uncle’s restaurant and is now the owner and a driving force behind several of the metro Jackson area’s favorite dining spots: Walker’s Drive-In, CAET, Parlor Market, Local 463, and Capital Club.
Tell us your background. Where did you grow up? If not in Mississippi, how did you end up here?
JE: I was born and have lived the majority of my adult life in Jackson. I spent my childhood in Brandon. I spent some time out of grad school managing restaurants in Chattanooga, TN. I came home, and I’ve never left.
What was your college major and do you use it in your current career?
JE: I have a degree in English which allows me to talk about everything and nothing all at the same time. This talent is very useful in the restaurant business.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
JE: My first job was at Dairy Queen. I was 14 and making $3.25 an hour. I learned that work was liberating and Butterfingers blizzards were Heaven.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
JE: The best professional advice that I ever received came out of an itty bitty business self-help book. The advice was a powerful lesson about word of mouth advertising. It said on average that if a customer had a good experience they were likely to tell 2-3 friends, whereas if a customer had a bad experience, they were likely to tell 8-9 friends. You do the math! This advice made me rework how our company handles complaints at tables. Our company philosophy is less about who is right or wrong and more about how can we salvage this guest’s visit.
What’s your trick to managing personal life vs. work life?
JE: I’m in the restaurant business, so let’s call them coping mechanisms instead of tricks. Each day is a juggling act. I might have four catering going out, a school play, a development meeting, and I’m the manager on duty at one of the restaurants, and that’s just before lunch. Let’s be honest, I live in controlled chaos. Here is how I survive: First, I’m a meticulous list maker. It clears my head, gives me peace, becomes our companies’ building blocks. I delegate from it. My to-do list becomes marching orders for my staff, my children, my husband, my contractor, and myself. Secondly, I delegate like a champ! It’s a talent I learned very late in life unfortunately. I trust the important people around me with the jobs I can delegate, so I can be there for that school play. It might mean that I’m up at the crack of dawn setting up the catering, but for an hour I’m just Mom. Lastly, I relax and forgive myself when things aren’t perfect. Things fall through the cracks sometimes.
With her leadership and insight into the restaurant industry, Jennifer makes eating local a true dining experience. Her unmatched professionalism makes her a standout in our program and an obvious choice for our Advisory Panel. She had so much knowledge to share with us that we’ve broken her interview into two parts! Stay tuned for part 2!