Small Town Eatery Trains On-The-Job

Jun 7, 2011

It was six o'clock. Like the rest of the staff of Bee Happy's, Tim Slone was waiting for folks to mosey into their new downtown Jackson restaurant on Main Street, to get a taste of their food, as well as to partake in the eatery's grand opening last Friday evening. It didn't take long for customers to pour in a few minutes later, and the sounds of servers talking to them about their orders mingled with occasional outbursts of laughter as well as the cries of “What would you like this evening?” and, “Can I get you a refill?”

The black and yellow balloons were placed outside the historic Hogg Building, where Bee Happy's is located. And inside where soda fountains once served and law books were shelved, hungry patrons voiced and nodded their approval.

“Bee Happy's is a place where we're trying to be a presence in the community, offering jobs and offering a service,” said Tim Slone, who's manager of the restaurant, which first opened their doors on April 18 and is owned and operated by Kentucky River Community Care (KRCC). Unlike most eating places, Slone noted that Bee Happy's is operated through a concept called “supported employment” - a system of support for people with disabilities in regards to employment in an integrated setting.

“We take consumers in any of KRCC's programs and we give them opportunities to learn skills, so they can be more self-reliant. It also helps them with social skills and gives them confidence.”

The location on Main Street had once housed a popular place to eat – the Feed Store had called the location home for several years before it closed in March 2008. What was once the Feed Store's big banquet room was a former law office for Jackson attorney James Stephen Hogg. And many people still remember when the building was once the home of the Jackson Drug Store, owned and operated by Hoy and Ruth Patton. Many a customer could recall sitting at the soda fountain getting an ice cream cone, a fountain Coke or Pepsi, or ordering a sandwich and a cup of coffee while getting their prescription filled.

“This place was available, so we had the kitchen, the tables and chairs, the room, and the history,” Slone told the Times-Voice. “If you look down on the wooden floor of the main dining room, you can see where the old round stools where people used to sit were at. This old building has a great feel and atmosphere...And we saw a need for another place for folks to dine at in Jackson and Breathitt County. It's a different kind of food. It's not fast food. It's classic comfort food. Meat loaf, Manhattan Roast Beef, pulled pork, chicken and dumplings, a salad bar, soup beans and cornbread. You can bring family, friends, relatives and sit down and enjoy.”

While the tables and chairs were being filled up in the main dining room, Omega Noble of Jackson was frying up freshly-made potato chips in the kitchen. “What I like about working here is the fact I love the people I work with. And I especially like meeting the customers. Most of all, I like meeting the ones who are from new places,” added Noble, who formerly worked at KRCC's “Caney Creations” Deli at the Sewell Center on Route 15 South near Quicksand. With a grin on her face, Noble pulled up a freshly-fried batch of chips to be drained off.

A nearby voice hollered, “Chips are up! And the cheese sticks!” Only a few seconds ticked away before a server brought out the next plate of what the place called, “Happytizers.”

“It's wonderful when someone comes up to us and tells us what a fine meal they've had,” said Mary Turner of Canoe, as she worked on getting fresh cornbread out of the oven. Like Noble, Turner once worked at the deli at Caney Creations. Prior to that, she was one of the cooks at the Family Diner, a once-popular restaurant before it was destroyed by fire in November 2005. “When they talk about how the food was cooked to their liking, and they talk about how much they enjoyed it, that makes us feel good.”

“This is nostalgic,” said Robert Cundiff of War Creek, who stopped in with his wife Ruth go grab a bite to eat. “I had my first ice cream here when it was a drug store. I was nine or 10 years old, and in this place it always tastes better. So is the food we had tonight.” Both Robert and Ruth went for what was on the salad bar – one of the biggest sellers in Bee Happy's hive. “The salad bar had everything we needed for a good salad, including cottage cheese.”

Manager Slone stated the busiest times at Bee Happy's were during the Wednesday and Sunday lunch periods. The restaurant is open seven days a week – Monday through Friday from 11 a.m to 8 p.m; on Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. He also mentioned that the big banquet room is available for parties, reunions, graduations, banquets and birthday parties.

Then there is another service that's available to their customers. “We've had printings by Ernest Shouse, and we couldn't have decorated this place without his paintings,” said Ernestine Howard, who's KRCC's Chief Financial Officer. “So we're also open for consignment. If people have books, poetry, paintings, jams and jellies or other crafts, we'd be interested in setting up for them.” An example of that was across the room from where Howard was sitting, as several copies of “John Neace's Ultimate Book of Poems” were on a bookshelf.

“So far, the reaction I've received has been positive. We've had a few menu changes, and the public's made suggestions to us,” said Slone. “Now we feel we've got it where people like it. It's part of what's making ups be successful, and that's listening to our customers.”

But one question remained – why the name, “Bee Happy's”? “It was the brainchild of our communications and design director, Charles Boggs. It was a creative process,” Slone proclaimed.

“I've enjoyed watching all the people involved in Bee Happy's this evening,” said Howard, who stopped in during the grand opening to grab a bite to eat, and was taking a shine on how well servers Shanna Miller, Jeremy Ross and Emily White were doing with the customers. “We've only been open for six-to-eight weeks, and now we're at the point of getting our menu and our staff in place. For many of our staff, this is a chance to redeem themselves and get on with rebuilding their lives. And this gives the staff a chance to return something back to this community by offering a service that people want. Tonight they're doing some fine work.”