When we first dreamed up the idea of having an MBJ Businessperson of the Year, we had no idea that the inaugural award would turn out like it did.
We generally thought the award would end up going to someone like a Hu Meena at C Spire, who led his Ridgeland-based companies to new heights in 2011 by working a deal to offer Apple’s iPhone to his customers.
Maybe someone like Hartley Peavey at Peavey Electronics in Meridian for the yeoman’s work he has done over the course of a lifetime that has led to a more positive image for Mississippi.
But when we really began to think more about the year that was in 2011, the weather from the historic floods and the EF-5 tornado that struck Smithville kept coming to the forefront.
From there, we looked for business people who had really made a difference to their communities and regions in a great time of need.
Then, we ran across Doughbellys Pizzeria and Mel’s Diner — two businesses that were totally destroyed during the April 27 storms.
So, here we are. In our inaugural Businessperson of the Year award, we are honoring the grit and guile of two Smithville small business ownerships, who stared down a community-destroying EF-5 tornado. Theirs, along with all but two business, were destroyed last April. But Phillip and Tiffany Lockhart of Doughbellys Pizzeria and Bobby and Melanie Edwards of Mel’s Diner have built back — bigger and better — and are serving a town that is healing on multiple levels. Sometimes, success is not measured in hundreds of millions of dollars made, but in serving your community. This is one of those times.
Many business owners fled, however, worried that the small, rebuilding Smithville might not be able to support much business going forward.
So, why stay?
According to Ted Carter’s story on page 13, there were signs that suggested that there was still plenty work to do in Smithville — for the town and themselves.
So why didn’t Smithville restaurateurs Bobby and Melanie Edwards and their neighbors Phillip and Tiffany Lockhart move on to new pursuits or go back to former occupations after April 27’s EF-5 tornado destroyed their businesses?
The Edwards say signs signaling what they should do appeared among the debris that was Mel‘s Diner, a business they built together for 14 years. The tornado took all the walls except the one dividing the kitchen and walk-in freezer and most every other part of the structure. But it left behind much of what Bobby and Melanie would need to make a new start including grills, stoves and fryers. The cake mixes, macaroni and other food remained on a shelf undisturbed.
“All the stuff was sitting there,” Bobby Edwards says. “The equipment was there.”
The reaction of Melanie Edwards? “She said, ‘God didn’t leave all this stuff here for us to just walk off,’” her husband recalls.
Sounds like a great reason to me.
So, while in the future, I am sure there will be lots of CEOs and bank presidents and more traditional types that will win this award, this time our most prestigious award goes to a group of people whose hard-working business practices just may help save an entire town.
We thank Edwards and the Lockharts for their dedication to their craft, their families and their towns. They are absolutely deserving of this honor.