By Justin Trausch
For The Observer
They say a business is only as good as the people that work there. That’s probably why Jim Bob’s Chicken Fingers has been a staple in Auburn and Opelika for the past 20 years — that and the great food, of course.
Two employees in particular have been a key reason for the family-friendly atmosphere that people keep coming back for. Lisa Hoyle and Mary Anne Bryant have worked at Jim Bob’s for 20 and 15 years, respectively, and not a day goes by where they don’t love every second of it, they said. For them, it’s more than a restaurant, it’s a family.
“This is not just a job to me,” Bryant said. “This is my ministry, because if I want to stop and pray with somebody, I can. My husband passed away five-and-a-half years ago, and if it was not for my Jim Bob’s family, I don’t know where I would be.”
The owners of Jim Bob’s, Steven and Gina Ferrell, worked at the restaurant for many years before finally taking over the business from Steven’s parents last year. Chuck and Bonnie Ferrell hired Hoyle back in 2002 when they first opened for business, and Bryant came in a little bit later in 2007.
“We joke around here and it’s just like a big family,” Hoyle said. “We’re not employees here, they treat you like you’re part of their family.”
The friendly, Christian atmosphere that the Ferrells started has been instilled in their employees since day one and passed down to their son. It’s a huge reason why people come from other states to eat their food and enjoy the atmosphere. The impact that the Ferrells have had on Hoyle’s and Bryant’s life also cannot be understated.
“My daddy passed away in 2002, and I really feel like the Lord put this place in my life because Mr. Chuck and Ms. Bonnie were like my parents,” a tearful Hoyle said. “I had my mom still until 2017, but [they] were like my surrogate parents. Me and my husband renewed our vows in 2012, and Mr. Chuck walked me down the aisle because my daddy wasn’t here to walk me down the aisle.”
Hoyle and Bryant’s loyalty to the restaurant does not go unnoticed, according to Ferrell. For their 20th and 15th year anniversaries with Jim Bob’s, Ferrell gifted them with plaques to commemorate their hard work and dedication.
“[Their loyalty] means the world. It makes it all worth it because we know everything is taken care of,” Ferrell said. “We have five kids and a whole ‘nother life outside of this that we juggle, so when we’re not here I know that my customers are going to be taken care of and I know that the place will be taken care of.”
Hoyle said that Jim Bob’s has always been loyal to her.
“If I ever needed anything, they were there for me,” she said. “Gina has always been a person I could go to for advice because, like she said, we’re like sisters.”
Alongside Jim Bob’s loyalty to its employees, what sets the restaurant apart from the rest is the Christian-oriented style of business. That may be obvious by the big “ichthys,” also referred to as a Jesus fish, on the sign, but Christianity a big reason it has been able to build such a devout and tight-knit customer base within their community.
“We have customers that come in here and we know exactly what they want, and we have them rung up before they even get to the register,” Bryant said. “We have customers that come in and ask us to pray for them, and we can walk away and pray for them because it’s a Christian restaurant.”
This aspect of their job is what has kept Hoyle and Bryant coming back every week for the past two decades. And would they ever think of going somewhere else?
“I was going to retire right before my husband passed away,” Bryant said. “He passed away five years ago. I’m a people person, and I said, ‘There’s no way I can retire and stay at home by myself,’ you know? So, no, I’ve never thought about going anywhere else.”
“After being here for 20 years, I just can’t see myself anywhere else,” Hoyle said. “I can’t even see myself retiring. I joke around with her all the time, ‘It’s time for me to go.’ I’m starting to have grandbabies come along, but I just can’t do it. I can’t make myself do it. Because I don’t want to leave the environment. I like getting up coming to this place every morning.”
Stop by Jim Bob’s at 2070 Frederick Road across from Tiger Town in Opelika.