It might be a table loaded with home cooked masterpieces such as fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, steaming bowls of fried okra and limas, cornbread and frosty glasses of sweet tea. By the time the guests are served a slice of chess pie and a hot cup of coffee, the conversation is flowing, the laughter is easy and strangers have become friends.
Growing up in Moore County, Chris Dickey remembers such occasions at the homes of his parents and grandparents. Although he had no clear career choice while in high school, his love of preparing food for guests’ enjoyment and open doors of opportunity eventually led him to the position of kitchen supervisor of Lynchburg’s internationally famous, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House Restaurant.
Chris and his team of four cooks, provide a “down-home” dining experience for the 40,000 guests a year who come for the food and leave with wonderful memories. They travel from all over the world and for many, the food that Chris puts on the table is their introduction to authentic southern cooking.
Chris is the youngest son of Jim and Dianne Dickey. Dianne is a secretary at Lynchburg Elementary School and Jim retired from the Distillery. His brother, Dusty, is a popular teacher at LES. Chris graduated from Moore County High School in 1996 and was one of the students selected to receive the two-year scholarship to Motlow State Community College.
Under the terms of this scholarship, provided by Jack Daniel’s Distillery, the students work as servers at Miss Mary Bobo’s while attending school. Even while he was still on scholarship, Chris began to work part-time in the kitchen.
He spent some time in a culinary apprentice program at the Opryland Hotel and landed a job in the kitchen at Demos’ Restaurant in Murfreesboro, where he was being groomed for a management position. But Moore County was calling him home and in 2002 he returned as a cook at Miss Bobo’s.
As fate would have it, also in 2002, Amanda Dye received the Jack Daniel’s Scholarship and began working at Miss Bobo’s. Chris and Amanda were married in 2004. Chris continued to cook at Miss Bobo’s for three and a half years under the mentorship of Sherry Grizzard and Myra Watson.
With his wife still going to school and the Boarding House about to undergo an extensive renovation, Chris transferred to a position as a tour guide at the Distillery for five years. He kept his cooking skills hot, so to speak, by also working every summer at the Blue Gill Grill.
In 2010, the position of kitchen supervisor at Miss Mary Bobo’s became available and to the delight of all who had worked with him as a cook, Chris was selected. The cooking was second nature to Chris. His challenges were two: calculating how much to order for a changing number of guests, and second, feeling comfortable as a manager. The evidence shows that he has done both well.
He capitalized on the skills of his team, Brenda Bailey, Kristie Johnson, Travis Tyler and Angel Jolley. The knowledge he gained from his experience as a student and a cook have made him an empathetic supervisor. Coupled with his easy going manner and the absence of ego issues, he has created an atmosphere in the Boarding House kitchen where all attention is on turning out delicious, guest pleasing food every day.
Chris and Amanda have two children. Neleh, age 7, named for Amanda’s mother, Helen Dye — who was killed in a tragic automobile accident — and Cooper, age 4. The family has spent a good deal of time at the ball field this summer. Chris has also taken responsibility for the care of an elderly neighbor. Time permitting, he would like to do more fishing in Mulberry Creek.
Chris’ family has been in Moore County for generations. His great-grandfather was Lem Tolley, Jack Daniel’s third Master Distiller.
Those who enjoy the food and the atmosphere at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, hope that for many years, when the dinner bell rings, the food on the table will have been skillfully and lovingly prepared by Chris Dickey.
—By June Pugh, For The Moore County News