Breakfast at Mimi’s, one year later
In a conversation recently about the prospective Pinewood Studios complex in Fayette County, someone asked if I thought movie industry people relocating here from the West Coast would take to a place like Mimi’s.
Well, I don’t know that many would search out a place for breakfast and lunch at Dividend and Kelly Drive unless they were looking at homes in Planterra Ridge, but yes, I do think they would like Mimi’s.
Another observed that our local affinity for Mimi’s might be kind of a “Southern” thing, but I don’t think so. Of course a chauffeured and pampered someone expecting roast duck with cucumber and miso sauce on fresh baked ciabatta, accompanied by a delicate red wine aged in French oak barrels to keep the flavor understated, might be better suited to Atlanta’s fine dining rooms overseen by a maitre’d in a tux, stiff back and elevated nose.
But on the whole, I think people are pretty much the same whether from the Northeast, deep South or sophisticated West Coast, and would find comfort in a place that makes them feel welcome, invited to relax with table fare much like Mom used to serve. On the first visit, Mimi’s may be just a place to eat, but the regulars know it is something more.
That’s why we worried about Mimi Gentilini just over a year ago when she lost her lease, and we thought maybe she lost her mind, too, when she chose a new location that demands a small search.
A few of us know by the time she had passed the multitude of inspections and restaurant license requirements, on the day before opening when a fire inspector found a small vent problem that required caulk, Mimi pressed him to return that same day to inspect the repair because she was “down to dimes” and desperate to open the next day.
One year later Mimi’s base of regulars like me slowly expands as new patrons return a few times, commiserate a little at first with newly familiar faces until they become a regular themselves, looking forward to the casual encounters as much as a meal.
To me and my buds, it is “Mimi’s social club,” our coffee hangout. You won’t hear orders like “Goat milk double half-caff half-fat soy latte grande with rose scented syrup and vegan dark-chocolate biscotti, extra-hot please!” With our breakfast we order coffee, decaf or hot tea, unless we lean exotic and go for orange juice.
In fact, the only thing pretentious at Mimi’s is arguably, well, me, because I have my own marked seat. Don’t judge me until I explain. I like to sit with my back to the wall in a corner with a full view of the room, a subconscious defense thing my buddies, who have been shot at, understand.
When I walked in one morning to find Skip Ragan in “my” seat, I remarked to him as a joke, “I guess I’m going to have to put up a sign to reserve my seat.” That day Skip retaliated by making a sign for “Terry’s seat” and hung it over “my” seat with Mimi’s permission; it still hangs there.
Last Wednesday when I walked in, Skip was at my table with co-conspirators Scott Bradshaw and Mike King, who was warming “my” seat. As I approached to join them, Mike moved over to the other side to vacate, despite my admittedly meek protest, treating me like royalty for a laugh.
But I’ll go along with their antics since it gets me the seat and safe feeling I prefer.
Mimi’s is not only a place to eat, it’s a place to schedule a meeting, chat with old and new friends. It can also be a sanctuary, like when Jim Pennington and I meet to talk about anything in the world other than city business to relieve the pressure, but don’t tell anybody. When Scott Bradshaw and Mike King join Jim and me, I have no control on the conversation, so don’t blame me.
Below, Mimi Gentilini confers with breakfast regular Scott Bradshaw. Photo/Special.
While eating, chatting or just lollygagging over coffee, you can’t help noticing the things Mimi’s patrons bring her.
Bill and Nina Divens, both octogenarians and still in love, have become Mimi’s informally adopted parents. Bill made for her a wooden cradle for the grandchildren Mimi doesn’t yet have, and Nina brings necklaces made with her own hands.
There came a time last year when both Bill and Nina were in the hospital at the same time, and Mimi was there just like family, providing comfort and conferring with doctors.
Then Mimi’s health took a temporary dive, requiring her own hospital stay, and the constant stream of flowers from her patrons made one nurse inquire whether she was some kind of celebrity.
Now and then Al Hogg brings Mimi a hydrangea bouquet from his yard, as does Greg Barber, and in season Al brings her peaches from Peach County. Jeannie Bradshaw adds variety to the blooms in the restaurant with her homegrown zinnias.
The tomato on your BLT at Mimi’s might come from a patron’s garden, washed well before slicing of course, brought in a basket or bowl routinely, a small gift for someone they appreciate.
On a more highfalutin’ note, a customer with adventurous taste brought her glass earrings – one an egg and the other a strip of bacon, and many have brought her additions to her Coke bottle collection.
The week Mimi opened last year Roger Casale brought her a good luck bamboo plant, and it must have worked, for it still lives.
Bill Camper brings shims to solve the occasional rocking table. He adds a little to the place by spreading cheer from table to table and you would never know one of his eyes was blinded by an artillery shell in combat. Mimi agreed to John Harrell’s plan to bring a U.S. Marine Corps flag for a selected spot on the wall.
At Christmas time, the never-still Mimi insists on lots of decoration, including window murals painted with her own hands. Al Farms supplied handmade wooden decorations for the tree brought in by Vince Garland. Dean Fryer hung and wired Rudolph on the wall, a deer head with a red light bulb for a nose, a little redneck Christmas cheer.
Dot and Don Thomas, a daily breakfast fixture, bring Mimi flowers on her birthday.
Jerry and Maureen bring the gift of always wearing T-shirts that entertain us all.
There are too many others to mention, small gifts that will never make Mimi wealthy. But there are different ways to be rich and Mimi is blessed with an abundance of best friends.
The greatest gift, she said to me recently, is the loyalty of great customers. She doesn’t have to worry any more whether her new restaurant location will make it. Breakfast mornings vary from scattered to slammed while the business lunch crowd is firm and growing.
On Sunday morning I advise arriving before 9 a.m. since the nearby church wraps up their service soon after, and empty tables might fill up fast.
Saturday gets busy, too, when I sometimes get to talk local political trash with Greg Dunn, former Fayette County Commission chairman, with his fellow past commissioner and constant sidekick, Peter Pfeifer.
On those busy days Mimi can be seen at the grill with her other cooks, her arms flying about in a blur, constantly in quick motion, which is normal for her anyway because she has Type I diabetes and keeping her activity up is her way of staying off insulin. She rises at 4:30 a.m. every day to start moving early.
Clark Howard wrote about Mimi’s health insurance plight in his new book, “Living Large for the Long Haul.” In a chapter at page 247 titled “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now,” Howard writes about Mimi’s constant motion and insurance difficulty with pre-existing conditions.
She looks forward to the new pre-existing condition rules of Obamacare scheduled to become effective next year, which is a paradox since her politics are to the right of Attila the Hun even though she grew up in the Democrat stronghold known as New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Mimi focuses on keeping her patrons happy with good food and an atmosphere a little like home. She enjoys fussing over some like Al and Myrna Baird, who celebrated their 51st anniversary just days ago on July 12.
Do I think people accustomed to the amenities of Los Angeles will like Mimi’s?
Absolutely, if they find it in the first place and return a few times so to them it transforms from a diner for a meal to a comfortable place to relax, eat and greet new friends, a place where others are glad to see them again, where people from all stations in life rub elbows and greet each other as equals.
Who wouldn’t like that?
[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City and writes columns occasionally for The Citizen. He has authored a book, “Strength & Honor: America’s Best in Vietnam.” His email is email@example.com.]