Three years ago, a restaurant that would become an Athens staple quietly opened on Baxter Street.
Mama Jewel’s Kitchen — a Southern-style restaurant whose recipes and namesake is inspired by the owners’ grandmother — sprung up out of a desire to bring quality Southern food to the college town of Athens.
Kelley Padgitt, a managing partner of Mama Jewel’s Kitchen, started the restaurant with her parents, Larry and Diane Gill. Before opening the store, Padgitt worked in the corporate restaurant business. She briefly left the restaurant business once starting a family, then ventured into the nonprofit sector before finally opening Mama Jewel’s.
The restaurant began as a family venture and continues to be today.
“It's me and my parents, and my husband helps on busy weekends,” Padgitt said. “Both of my children also work for me.”
Although Mama Jewel’s does have other, non-family staff, Padgitt said her family and the staff are very close -- “much like family” to her. This family-oriented atmosphere helps set Mama Jewel’s apart, and it is well-known among employees and customers for its hospitable and welcoming environment.
Padgitt said she strives to make it a real Southern restaurant that treats its customers like family.
“We really try to make sure that when people walk in the door, they feel very comfortable like they were at home or like they were at my grandmother's house,” Padgitt said. “We try to attend to every need that they may have and make sure that they are well taken care of.”
Matthew McKenzie, the head line cook from Augusta, Georgia, who’s been working at Mama Jewel’s since June of 2018.
“It’s like going to somebody's house — just chill and laid back,” McKenzie said.
“We [still] see people almost every day who have never been here and are just discovering us for the first time. We're just slowly but surely making strides and growing.”
— Kelley Padgitt, managing partner of Mama Jewel’s Kitchen
Parker James, the pastor of Lord of Glory Fellowship and a regular at Mama Jewel’s, notices Padgitt’s efforts to make the environment accommodating and he greatly appreciates it. He visits the restaurant every Wednesday with the men’s breakfast group, and he comes for lunch meetings. Although James said his group can be large, Padgitt always tries to accommodate their size and helps out outside of the restaurant business.
“She's helped with our ministry through the church when there were families in need,” James said. “She had extra food and she actually helped us a lot.”
Padgitt said she makes “every biscuit that goes out of the building,” highlighting the restaurant’s emphasis of homemade food.
Over the last three years, Mama Jewel’s has grown and secured a loyal customer base. It also remains a novelty restaurant for new customers who come in every day.
“I have customers who come in every single week who have been with us the whole three years and still we see people almost every day who have never been here and are just discovering us for the first time,” Padgitt said. “We're just slowly but surely making strides and growing.”
From knitting clubs to business professionals and retired people to college students, every demographic of the Athens community seems to enjoy breakfast or other meals at Mama Jewel’s.
James cited the restaurant’s environment, its quality food and its reasonable pricing as his reasons for loving Mama Jewel’s.
“At some places, you can only pay $5 for a coffee, but here you get a homemade biscuit and coffee at the same time,” James said.
All in all, the menu items aren’t just simple recipes common to the South. From the jalapeno jelly to the special Southern coffee that includes pecans, every item has a Mama Jewel’s twist, according to Jared Bryan, a pastor of Resurrection of Presbyterian Church and one of James’ friends.
“The biscuits, the gravy — it's all good Southern food, but it has these unique twists that make it … real creative and very well-done,” Bryan said.
Mama Jewel’s remains a restaurant to be reckoned with in the Athens community. Even though it’s only been three years, the restaurant has made a lasting mark on members of the community, from pastors to college students to retirees. And for some residents of Athens, Mama Jewel’s has successfully secured a place in their heart.