JACKSON, Miss. — There are many reasons why the Elite restaurant has remained a staple of downtown Jackson for over six decades, and Nina Franklin — a waitress for 20 years — is one of them.
The Scott County woman has held several jobs in life, but calls her current one the most meaningful. She said the customers and colleagues make her daily hour-long commute worthwhile.
Franklin works the breakfast and lunch shift, from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. She's usually the first waitress to arrive and starts the coffee while head cook Hattie Powell makes breakfast.
When the breakfast crowd dies down, Franklin and the team of waitresses get set up for lunch. Patrons arrive as early as 11 a.m. to find their favorite teal-colored booth and settle in for some grub. The family owned restaurant is a popular setting for birthday celebrations, proposals, anniversaries and movie scenes —most recent being a New York scene in the James Brown biopic "Get On Up."
Franklin and the team, including her sisters and veteran waitresses Charline Weeks and Charlotte Bishop, believe in good customer service and adhere to the restaurant's motto: "It's the food that counts." The classic and consistent menu of favorites such as fresh seafood, homemade rolls and enchiladas keep customers coming back.
Restaurant spokesman Chuck Odom, husband of managing partner Toula Odom, attributes the restaurant's success to a process-driven system. He said the steady clientele keeps the establishment afloat.
"Consistency is the name of the game," Chuck Odom said. "The way we prepare the food, the way it's ordered, the way we deliver the food and the way it's presented on the plate."
Franklin withholds her age because "a lady never tells." She said she received her largest tip a long time ago when she worked the night shift.
"We did a big party one night, and it was three of us working it, I believe. And they gave us $100 apiece," Franklin said. "We had a lot of big parties. We've got good customers. We've got a lot of regulars, and they're good people."
Franklin's zone has three booths and six tables, and she can carry more than three hot and cold plates at once, having zero accidents in her time at The Elite. "We tote plates on our arms; we don't have trays," she said. "It's hard with those enchiladas because they're hot."
During a recent shift, Franklin greeted longtime patron Bill Moore and Seth Starkey, a South Carolina native who recently moved to Jackson. Moore ordered the hamburger steak, and Starkey's eyes went to another popular dish.
"Is that chicken-fried steak? Bring it back; I'll eat it," Starkey said with a smile. The item was actually the chicken-fried veal, and Starkey topped it off with a classic glass bottle of Coca-Cola.
"(Starkey) said he loved it and that he would be back," Franklin said. "You can look at the way people eat and tell if it's good."
"Every waitress has their regular customers. I know what most of my breakfast customers eat," Franklin said. "I have a lot of judges and attorneys, and I know what they eat. You get to know them, and you don't take it for granted because they'll switch it up every once in a while."
After 1 p.m., Franklin exhales saying, "The rush is over," and the wait staff cleans the tables and puts the ketchup and mustard bottles back in the cooler.
She knows 90 percent of her morning customers by first name.
"They're like family, and it makes it good," she said, adding that one has to enjoy working with people in order to make it in the restaurant industry. "You've got to take care of your customers; if you don't, they will not come back. Be friendly, treat them like they're at home, and it makes them comfortable."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com