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Women’s History Month Feature: Miss Mary Bobo

Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 10:38 am

Very few restaurants can make their customers feel at home when they come for a visit. Miss Mary Bobo’s, however, has mastered the art of making visitors feel like family, even if they are first-time guests. How has one of Lynchburg’s most prized landmarks accomplished this impressive feat? Well, much of it has to do with the legacy of the woman from whom the restaurant got its name. Many things about this restaurant have changed over the years, but Miss Mary’s high standards and high-quality service have never gone out of style and continue to satisfy guests far and wide.

Miss Mary Bobo was born in Lynchburg on July 10, 1881. In 1908, after she was grown and married, she returned to Lynchburg with her husband and two children. The house that they owned was far too big for only four people, so she began a boarding home that serviced businessmen, unmarried schoolteachers, and tourists. While they were under Miss Mary’s roof, guests were assured the best food that the south had to offer. Miss Mary created the menus and oversaw her crew of cooks, and this behind-the-scenes work was what made certain that the finished product would be its absolute best. According to Debbie Baxter, Jack Daniel’s would even send their guests to Miss Mary specifically to try her delectable food. Jack Daniel’s acquired the place shortly after the death of Miss Mary, and it is important to them that the history be maintained and that her home keep its special meaning. Her life was one of service, and her savvy business mind is one that should inspire anyone in the business industry.

In 2006, the restaurant closed for a year so that the building could be renovated and upgraded. It went from four dining rooms to nine so that it could accommodate more guests, and other changes included an elevator, new kitchens, and new restrooms. Sadly, this is not the only time that the restaurant had to close for an extended period of time. Like all other businesses, Miss Mary Bobo’s was forced to adjust to a new normal once the pandemic arose. All business ceased for three months in 2020, but business has resumed and is once again booming. The staff has gone above and beyond to maintain the feeling of community within the facility while also altering past setups to keep their guests safe. The menu is a little different every day, and visitors can check the Facebook page for updates if they desire a particular dish. The restaurant even has a pie of the day, and customers can buy whole pies, which is especially handy if they need to take food to a party. The restaurant also holds a gift shop filled with cookbooks, just in case you want to try your own hand at Miss Mary’s recipes, and plenty of goodies for your kitchen if you want your home to have a splash of her southern charm. This upcoming Friday and Saturday, the gift shop will have a sale where people can pay a price for a single bag and then fill it with as many items as possible. Plenty of people cannot wait to visit, so be sure to make a reservation if you intend to do the same.

For those who are Moore County High School graduates who choose to attend Motlow, there is a special program available that is designed to assist them with their expenses. The cooperative program began in 1972 when Motlow was still a newly-created institution. Due to the familial connection between Jack Daniel and the Motlows, Jack Daniel’s paid the educational expenses of four Motlow students every year. In 2007, after the completion of the expansions, the number was upped to seven students per year. The Tennessee Lottery Scholarship then took over and made this program unnecessary, so the program was adjusted to pay for any extra student expenses. This means that students not only get free tuition but also receive financial assistance with textbooks, calculators, and other class-related material.

Miss Mary died shortly before her 102nd birthday in 1983, and even though she is gone, the impact that she has left on her small town refuses to die any time soon. The restaurant has kept some of her original recipes on their menu, and even though plenty of restaurants offer southern food, there is something else about Miss Mary Bobo’s that helps to give it its charm. According to Debbie Baxter, the experience is unlike any other because there is no other restaurant where you can “sit with strangers and feel like friends.” A piece of trivia that I found particularly interesting is that she received 40,000 birthday cards for her 100th birthday and was featured in publications throughout the state. This occasion allowed her to become the oldest woman to ever be included in Playboy magazine.

I made my first visit to Miss Mary Bobo’s this past weekend, and I quickly discovered that it is well-worthy of its reputation. I am a self-professed macaroni and cheese snob, but I must admit that the macaroni and cheese that I had there is some of the best I have ever had. I also highly recommend the fudge pie as it might be one of the best desserts you will ever eat. The rustic yet beautiful wood flooring paired with the old-fashioned wallpaper creates an environment that feels like it could be one of my relatives’ dining rooms, and the top-notch service creates an atmosphere almost as delightful as the food. The restaurant is a testament to the superb work ethic and character of Miss Mary, and it stands as a reminder that not even death can stop someone’s legacy from thriving.