GRACE & GRIT: Celebrating Lynchburg’s first female entrepreneur, Mary Evans Bobo

Miss Mary Bobo's Restaurant and Mary Evans Bobo
She’s noted in the history books as one of Lynchburg’ first female entrepreneurs. Miss Mary Bobo Restaurant remains today as part of her legacy of grace and grit. (Lynchburg Times and Historical Photo)

Lynchburg is home to the world-famous Jack Daniel’s Distillery, but there’s another hidden gem that has captivated visitors for decades. Renown for its Southern hospitality and mouth-watering home-cooked meals, Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant stands as a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder, Mary Evans Bobo. In a time when female entrepreneurs were a rarity, Mary Bobo broke barriers, establishing herself as a trailblazer in Lynchburg and beyond.

Mary Evans Bobo was born in Lynchburg in 1881. She would have been 142 today, in fact. Growing up in a small town with strong community values, her childhood was filled with the sights, sounds, and flavors of the South, which would later shape her entrepreneurial vision. Mary married Jack Bobo in 1928, and together they embarked on a journey that would leave an indelible mark on our little town.

The birth of Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant

In 1908, the Bobos purchased the historic Lynchburg boardinghouse, transforming the Greek Revival home into the iconic Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant. Mary’s warm and welcoming nature, coupled with her culinary skills, quickly turned the restaurant into a beloved gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The restaurant became renowned for its signature family-style dining, where guests would share a table, pass around delicious homemade dishes, and engage in lively conversations.

As a female entrepreneur in the early 20th century, Mary surely faced numerous challenges. However, her unwavering determination and commitment to quality helped her overcome them all. She showcased her talent by perfecting classic Southern recipes, attracting renowned figures such as Tennessee Governor Frank Clement and even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited the restaurant in 1940. Mary’s ability to adapt and innovate kept Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant thriving through the years.

Originally built by Thomas Roundtree in the 1800s, Miss Mary’s sits on the National Register of Historic Places. The original structure was a traveler’s hotel and was built over a natural spring. Mary and Jack originally leased it from Dr. E. Y. Salmon and later purchased the property. The original structure was raised in the 1800s as a traveler’s hotel and was built over a natural spring.  Interestingly, the second floor once served as the Moore County Courthouse from 1872-1880, while Dr. Salmon served as Moore County Clerk and Master.

After the Bobo’s purchased the hotel and named Mary sole proprietress, she was noted for being the only woman to run a commercial business in Lynchburg. Jack passed away in 1914 and Mary personally ran the boarding house until her death in 1983, just one month shy of her 102nd birthday.

Boardinghouse and restaurant never served whiskey

Many of the recipes served today date back to Mary’s time in the kitchen like the fudge pie. Like most entrepreneurs, she lived and breathed her business. Her dedication made an impression. She created a memorable experience that even Jack Daniel himself appreciated, as he often frequented the restaurant. His nephew, Tom Motlow, once famously boarded at 295 Main Street. Her brother-in-law Lem Motlow, heir to the Jack Daniel’s estate, also frequented the restaurant. Legend holds that despite her many connections to the distillery, she always refused to serve whiskey in her boardinghouse.

Today, the boarding house is no more but Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant continues to serve as a testament to her enduring legacy. It remains a cherished landmark, drawing visitors from all corners of the globe who seek an authentic taste of Southern hospitality and cuisine. Mary’s pioneering efforts paved the way for future generations of female entrepreneurs, demonstrating that with passion, resilience, and hard work, anyone can achieve their dreams.

Mary Evans Bobo’s entrepreneurial journey and the establishment of Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of women in business. Her legacy continues to inspire and uplift the community of Lynchburg, Tennessee, reminding us of the power of determination and the joy that can be found in sharing a meal with others. Mary Evans Bobo’s story is a shining example of how a pioneering entrepreneur can shape not only a business but an entire town’s history.

If you’re a local or plan a visit to Lynchburg, it’s a fabulous place to slow down, enjoy a meal, learn more about our local history, and maybe meet a new friend from around the world. To learn more, visit the Jack Daniel’s Distillery website. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We tells the stories of local folks here in Lynchburg as well as those happening across Tennessee and the American South that we believe may be of interest to our readers. Like what we’re doing? You can support us for just $5 per month by following this link.}

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