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Even with social distance precautions, charm unchanged at Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant

Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant sits inside a historic Greek Revival home that originates back to a time before even the distillery existed. It’s dining with a slice of southern culture served with a side of local history.
Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant sits inside a historic Greek Revival home that originates back to a time before even the distillery existed. It’s dining with a slice of southern culture served with a side of local history. {Lynchburg Times Photo}

Written by Tabitha Evans Moore | Editor & Publisher

In ordinary times, lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant in Lynchburg isn’t just a meal … it’s a slice of southern culture served with a side of local history. Diners pass heaping platters of Lynchburg favorites around large tables, family-style, as local hostesses regale with tales about Jack Daniel, the Motlow family, and Miss Mary Bobo herself.

In March, the local restaurant closed it’s doors along with public tours at the distillery and the Lynchburg Hardware and General Store due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Ever mindful of not only its local but also global interest, Jack Daniel’s parent company, Brown-Forman, decided to shut down the marketing side of the distillery while continuing to make whiskey in the hollow — but with a few extra precautions.

In July, Miss Mary Bobo’s re-opened but with some social distanced changes to make sure everyone – from its local staff to its guest from Lynchburg Tennessee, the U.S., and around world – stayed safe. You’ll get your temperature checked at the door. Masks are available for anyone that doesn’t already have one and hand sanitizer is at the ready. The long, family style tables are gone, replaced by smaller, antique tables and chair. Seating is a bit more limited, so you’ll probably want to make a reservation.

Today things are a little different … but just as charming.

A slice of local history

Miss Mary Bobo’s exists as one part restaurant and one part museum of Jack Daniel’s storied history in the community. Framed copies of Arnold Worldwide’s famous Postcard from Lynchburg ad campaign grace multiple walls along with historic photos. It’s one of the longest-running advertising campaigns in history featuring both local characters like Mayor Bonnie Lewis and famous faces like Frank Sinatra and Queen Victoria.

Even the restaurant itself is a slice of local history, as it existed well before Jack Daniel licensed his now famous distillery in the hollow in 1866. Originally built in 1820 around a natural spring that still exists on the property, the two story Greek Revival building possesses a certain unmistakable charm.

Miss Mary, her husband, and two children bought the home from the Salmon family in early 1900 and turned the unused bedrooms into rooms for rent. One of her most famous (and most frequent) boarders was Tom Motlow, Lem Motlow’s younger brother and the founder of Farmer’s Bank. He boarded at Miss Mary’s for more than 40 years until he died at the age of 96.

Miss Mary continued to host boarders until 1970 and continued to oversee the kitchen right up until her death in June 1983 just one month shy of her 102 birthday. Jack Daniel’s Distillery bought the house soon after and re-opened it as a public restaurant in May 1984.

Southern charm and social distancing

So what’s it’s like to eat at Miss Mary Bobo’s without storytellers at the head of each table. We decided to grab a reader, Jill Estfon, the winner of our Lunch with the Editor contest and find out.

For the time being, guests dine at smaller, more intimate tables spaced further apart. Instead of family-style presentation, one of Miss Mary’s scholarships students serves each table. If you aren’t familiar, the restaurant boasts a long history of supporting Moore County students. Each scholarship student is a MCHS graduate attending Motlow State Community College while Jack Daniel’s provides the work experience, books, and labs fees.

The service is friendly, attentive, and completely unobtrusive. Servers wear masks for guests protection. The tables, each adorned with fresh flowers grown by Miss Mary’s Bobo’s manager Debbie Baxter, still feel like Sunday morning.

During our visit, Jill and I were seated in the far left corner of the Evans Room. It didn’t take us long to strike up a conversation with Chris visiting from Salt Lake City across the room. It seems whether hostesses are seated at the head of the table or not the restaurant still inspires meeting and mingling … even at a distance.

“I love the pace and the ability to just sit and enjoy a meal,” he said.

A taste of Lynchburg

Though the menu changes often, crispy, southern-style fried chicken is often on it. Diners choose from a meat, and two or three sides. All meals come with bread and iced tea. {Photo Credit: Laura Zimbrick for Miss Mary Bobo’s}

Miss Mary’s menu changes frequently and features two meats, five sides to choose from, fresh-baked bread, and iced tea. Dessert is optional. All meals are created by a culinary team headed by Jack Daniel’s great great-grand nephew, Chris Dickey. Entrees include items like Boarding House Meatloaf, Southern Fried Chicken, Chicken Pastry, Fried Catfish, and Country-Style BBQ Ribs. On our visit, Jill enjoyed the meatloaf while I dug into the fried chicken.

“The meatloaf tastes super moist with a tangy, spicy bit of heat,” Jill said.

You can get a taste of our famous local product at the distillery. You can also get a southern-inspired taste at Miss Mary Bobo’s. The Lynchburg Candied Apples made with a touch a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is a must if you want the full Lynchburg experience.

Other sides include seasoned greens, fried okra, broccoli rice casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and, of course, every meal is served with a fresh-baked biscuit or cornbread.

Our Lunch with Editor winner, Jill Estfon, raved about Miss Mary Bobo’s fudge pie recipe. “This is on par with what my grandmother made,” she said. {Lynchburg Times Photo}

For dessert, Jill and I both enjoyed the Fudge Pie topped with homemade whipped cream.

“My grandmother set a high bar,” Jill said. “This fudge pie is on par with what my grandmother, Elizabeth Smith, used to make.”

Other featured desserts include chess, pecan, oatmeal, or buttermilk pies.

Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant is located just off the historic Lynchburg Square at 295 Main Street. Seatings are generally available every 15 minutes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday but reservations are highly recommended and can be made at 931-759-7394.

They also boast an impressive gift shop perfect for a little early Christmas shopping. For more information, check out their Facebook page or visit the Jack Daniel’s website. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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