August is living up to its reputation of heat and drier days for our hometown, where athletes take to the fields to prepare for fall football and students return to their studies.
Last week we began talking with Homer Jones, the face behind the fast food line and kitchen at the Newport McDonald’s where he has worked since the restaurant opened in 1983. Before moving along with the story I need to correct a mistake from last week’s column. I mentioned a store where his mother sent her grocery list. The store was Suggs’ Grocery operated by Iliff Suggs.
I thank Louise Suggs, whose husband, Willis, is a son to Iliff for the correct information. She explained that the Suggs family children went to school with the Joneses. And Louise knew Homer’s sister, Henrietta. The store operated from the late 1960s thru the early 1980s.
Homer has always been familiar with work and has done many things such as construction labor, heat and air repairs, and did a stint at Cracker Barrel.
He began working at night when Buzz Rosenbaum was the general manager. The new McDonald’s had opened in July 1983 and Homer knew how to flip burgers. He knew people, liked people, liked to work and so in a couple of years moved into management.
“The brand has been good to me,” he said, and to many others like late Newport attorney Tom Testerman, who worked with Homer. By 1985 Rosenbaum moved to another location. The Newport store was managed by Mike Livesay and then Homer.
He credits a strong core team for his success: Tracy Smith, Vonda Phillips, Sonya Hazelwood, and Judy Shults to name a few. That few have grown to well over 100 current employees.
“I’ve worked three generations of kids,” he said, and the parents sent their children to him to get a taste of work, because they trusted and knew Homer would teach the children his strong work ethic.
McDonald’s is really a simple business at its heart presenting great burgers and fries, fast and always-good food, he said. There have been many changes in the menu but the basics are the same maybe the attitude of workers has changed the most. Managers there and elsewhere point out the difficulty of hiring employees who will stay on the job.
The customers over the years whether Irene Rush or Marvin Keys have been his family. “Its one of the pleasures of working here. Everybody knows you.” The fact that revenue has quadrupled since the store opened is a testament to Homer’s management skills. He credits it to the support of the local people.
After so many years of 50-60 hour weeks, I am wondering how the 61-year-old Homer will handle the transition. One plan is to travel and one special destination is Canada. He would like to see Alaska from a cruise ship.
Back home in Tennessee you might see him fishing for crappy and catfish along the French Broad or Pigeon Rivers and maybe Big Creek for trout. You might find him at his home of 23 years in Newport and helping his family.
He also has a few hobbies such as collecting US coins, following the Blue Devils basketball or the Vols on the football field. As a youngster he played basketball at school and a lot of sandlot baseball and football.
The man who is already on the job in Newport to continue the service and tradition of the Golden Arches is McDonald’s veteran Ricky Lewis, the son of Paul and Alva Lewis of Newport. Ricky lives in White Pine but grew up in the Edwina community.
Since he started in April 1987, Ricky has worked mostly in Sevier and Knox County McDonald’s. His first location was the Gatlinburg store downtown. From 1997 thru 2007 he left McDonald’s to work at Mahle in Morristown in the foundry, a hot demanding job.
There’s a few new things now and soon in Newport. Already you can buy a bright red koozie for your large drinks. Soon you can purchase chicken griddles and that sounds sweet to my taste buds.
It has been a hectic time for the changeover in management, particularly Ricky misses veteran of 40 years Judy Shults, who broke her hip recently. The Newport store is one of many former Cochran family stores sold to the Farris family. Farris Enterprises operates about 60 McDonald’s in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
There will be some big news later in the year, I hear, and perhaps Homer will see this major change. Keep reading and you will know what McDonald’s has in store for later in 2019 into 2020.