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WOMEN IN BUSINESS 2017 The family that works together Home cooking and community still draws crowds at Granny’s Kitchen


BY HOLLY KAYS STAFF WRITER It’s 3 p.m. on a weekday, a time when any restaurant would be well within its rights to be all but empty. But business at Granny’s Kitchen in Cherokee is humming along steadily, the main parking lot about half full and the hostess busily engaged with fielding phone calls, ringing up customers on their way out and welcoming customers on their way in. “It is leaf season, but still all summer long it’s been what it is,” says Dwight Williamson, kitchen manager and at 40 the youngest son of owners Ray and Teresa Williamson. The smell of home cooking swells like a wave immediately upon opening the door to the restaurant’s homey woodpaneled dining room, the buffet line stocked with freshly made turkey and dressing, roast beef and pudding. It’s country cooking done right, tried-andtrue recipes honed to perfection over the course of 33 years. “We do everything the hard way,” Dwight said. “When it comes to cooking, it ain’t no shortcuts. You start with the best product you can buy, and you go from there.” Those are lessons Dwight has been learning since childhood. He was just a kid when his parents started Granny’s Kitchen in 1984, his growing-up years lived to the rhythm of the restaurant business. “We had four little kids, and I quit my job and he (Ray) quit his job, and we didn’t really have sense enough to realize we could have failed at it,” Teresa said of the decision to become entrepreneurs.

The opportunity arose to lease the business location, which the family now owns, and the Williamsons figured they’d give it a try. Ray had been cooking professionally since age 14, earning a degree in hotel and restaurant management from AB Tech, and Teresa, who is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, had started helping with her grandmother’s restaurant — the old Sequoyah Restaurant downtown — when she was 11 years old, though her professional background is in bookkeeping. They were restaurant people, through and through, so they figured they might as well own one.

A TEAM EFFORT It was hard at the beginning. The restaurant was open seven days a week, from about 7 in the morning until 8 or 9 at night. The family had a house, but they often stayed overnight in a little apartment inside the restaurant. If they were awake, it seemed, they were working. As far as time off, vacations pretty much had to be in the winter, when business was slower. “We used to have to pull our kids out of school to take them places,” Teresa recalls. Over time, things stabilized. They started closing one day a week — Mondays — to give themselves and their employees a chance to breathe. The apartment where the family once spent so many nights is now gone, transformed into a salad room. And with her kids all grown and active in the business themselves, Ray and Teresa no longer have to spend so much time at the restaurant. “I had hoped they would see what it was like to work like a dog and they would get a good education and they would do something else, nine-to-five and holidays off and stuff,” Teresa said. “They all got good educations, but they’re right there with us, thank God.”

Even in the middle of the afternoon, cars crowd the parking lot at Granny’s Kitchen. Holly Kays photo

“You may be the only person that has the opportunity to make [a customer] feel better that day. So be as nice and kind and friendly as you can. You can’t please everybody, but you can always try to make people feel better.” — Teresa Williamson

Granny’s Kitchen is probably as true to the definition of a family business as it’s possible to be. In addition to Ray and Teresa, 11 other family members work in various aspects of the business — two sons, a daughter, sons- and daughters-inlaw and grandchildren. “People kind of look at us wondering how we can all hang out together all the time, but we manage to do it,” Teresa laughed. “Our family gets along very well,”

Dwight added. “We do everything together. Any event, we’re all there unless we’re here. Any family function, we’re all together.” The key to family harmony in the midst of a fast-paced industry, Teresa said, is having a thick skin and a willingness to work. “There’s no such thing up here as, ‘It’s not my job,’” she said. Everyone has a job title, but in reality everyone has done all the jobs at some point along the way. Dwight, for instance, started out as a kid rolling silverware, back when the family stayed so many nights in the attached apartment and the children would wander in and out of the restaurant when they got home from school. His brother would bus tables, and his sister would run the cash register. Though cooking is his passion, in the years since he’s tried his hand at most everything else that might need doing. There’s no pointing at one single person to credit the success of Granny’s Kitchen. It’s a team effort, all the way. That’s a tradition that starts with Teresa and Ray themselves. “You have to rely on each other,” Teresa said. “I think with my strengths and his (Ray’s) strengths, I’m able to kind of think outside the box sometimes and develop new ways to do things. As far as

Women in Business 2017  
Women in Business 2017